UNCEASING WAVES

A Note on the Paris Attacks

Posted in International by Karthick RM on August 14, 2016

Why didnt the Western media cover Beirut as much as Paris, a writer for Al Jazeera asks. Why didnt Al Jazeera cover the Tamil genocide as much as Palestine, can we ask? We dont because we maintain this minimal decency that we should not compare deaths, massacres of civilians, that each tragedy is unique in itself and should not be compared. Yes, the dominant Western media covers Western issues more, just as a dominant Arab media covers Arab issues more just as a dominant Indian media covers Indian issues more. Why is that surprising? (To be honest, among the three, there is more diversity in the Western media.)

We have friends, family, comrades, lovers, who died in Paris. If we in the Europe mourn them, it does not mean we do not care about Lebanon. It is only because the Paris attacks were closer to the places we frequent, closer to the places our loved ones frequent; and humans as a species relate more to tragedies closer to home. This is what makes us human. To mock this requires a level of coldness which the ISIS share.

I can sympathize with the outrage that the Lebanese may feel at the media coverage in the West. Tamils who were active during 2009 can relate to this, how the Indian media, especially the lib-left ones, blacked out or twisted stories about Sri Lanka. But if we started asking the left “what about us” with respect to the Tamil case, there will be no end, and nothing fruitful in the end. We can challenge this media coverage with more dignity and without trying to exploit the other person’s guilt.

Yes, there are people who changed their profile pics to the French flag without any politics whatsoever, just as a stunt. But if these are fakes, I can say with confidence that the entire Indian “pro-palestinian” group is one big fake and the worst stunt pullers that I have met. These fakes do not represent the tragedy that either the Parisians face now or the Palestinians have faced for long.

Yes, Obama who is worrying about Paris but not Beirut is a hypocrite. So is Fidel Castro who accuses the US of creating ISIS but gave all diplomatic and political support to a state that resembles both in deed and ideology the Islamic State, the Sinhala-Buddhist regime of Sri Lanka. In fact, Sri Lanka is the perfect example of what the world will be if ISIS wins. And what coverage and solidarity did the Tamils get from the mainstream left? Imperialists will behave like imperialists will behave. They are brutal, hypocritical, cynical and manipulative. The sad part however is that the mainstream left is no different.

At some level, this also exposes the hypocrisy of certain ‘postcolonial’ activists – first you claim that you dont need attention from the West, next you scream if the West doesnt give you more attention. Just what and where is your politics exactly? To be honest, this “whataboutery” insults the victims more than the Western media people who you claim were ignorant to their plight.

Let us not undermine one person’s suffering in the name of highlighting another. Its like going to a house where a family has lost a loved one and making a statement that “Hey, this is sad, but you know in a road accident in New York in 1945, a whole family was wiped out.” There is nothing even mildly political about this.

Let us use this really grave moment to convey solidarity with the people who are standing up to racism and fundamentalism, be it in Paris, Lebanon, Tamil Eelam, Kurdistan, Baltimore, or Nigeria. But let us not do this “what about” games, especially with people who are our potential comrades, especially at such a time of crisis. The blood shed in Paris is the blood shed in Beirut is the blood shed in Jaffna is the blood shed in Diyarbakir. Praying for and showing solidarity with whatever is closest to you does not make you a racist. But trivializing the suffering of another makes you an absolute disgrace to humanity.

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Combating Political Apathy: Taking Forward the Intellectual Legacy of Sivaram

Posted in Liberation Struggles by Karthick RM on May 16, 2015

Originally published on TamilNet

The assassination of ‘Taraki’ Sivaram, political analyst and senior editor of TamilNet, ten years back by the Sri Lankan state was a blow to the intellectual world of the Eelam Tamil nation in particular, the Tamil civilization in general. While 20th century Tamil nationalist movements in both Tamil Nadu and Tamil Eelam saw the rise of orators, poets, writers, novelists and dramatists of fine standing, and who had made no mean contribution to shaping modern Tamil identity, Sivaram was a unique phenomenon.

Informed by Tamil literature as much by Tamil history, Marxism as much as Poststructuralism, Thucydides as much as contemporary COIN theorists, Sivaram worked for the Eelam Tamil cause as a leading politico-military analyst and as a true “organic intellectual.”

The organic intellectual, as Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci defined him, gives a group an awareness of its functions and strategies in political, social and economic fields. What differentiates an organic intellectual from a tradition intellectual is that the latter claims neutrality but serves the status-quo; the former is a partisan for a cause.

Sivaram, without doubt, was a partisan for a sovereign Tamil Eelam. But what differentiated him from other writers was his no-nonsense, non-sentimental approach to politics and military affairs. Engaging with latest theoretical and practical developments in the military and the geo-political field, he wrote to inform both the fighters and masses of the designs of world powers in the island. In as much as he wrote about the military maneuvers of the Sri Lankan military, he also gave adequate focus to the global dynamics that were shaping politics in and geo-politics of the island.

In fact, Sivaram was most apprehensive of the manipulation of the US led axis during the peace process and the Oslo accords.

In an article written in the North Eastern Herald in March 2003, Sivaram said that the geo-political interests of US and India would “want Thamileelam to continue in its current ‘limbo’ statehood for their respective strategic reasons or precipitate its withering through ‘containment.’”

The manner in which this containment played out during the CFA, how supposedly ‘neutral’ observers like the SLMM tilted the balance in favor of the GoSL, has also been documented by the LTTE’s Peace Secretariat.

This grand strategy of containment of the LTTE while giving political and military legitimacy to the GoSL ultimately led to the escalation that was the Mullivaaykaal genocide.

In a follow-up article in the North Eastern Herald in April 2003, titled “LTTE’s big mistake: falling again for federalism”, Sivaram notes how the big powers and their comprador intellectuals were trying to trap the Tigers into working within a unitary Sri Lankan state. Condemning such Tamil intellectuals for their laziness to challenge this manipulation, he writes “by no logic can anyone gloss over the stark fact that political apathy is quite widespread and growing among the Tamils today, much to the delight of India and the US-UK combine that is masterfully choreographing the peace process.”

The Mullivaaykaal massacre, the protracted genocide in occupied Tamil Eelam, the pathetic sham of the LLRC and the several pro-LLRC resolutions that the US sponsored in Geneva must have shaken the apathy of several Tamil intellectuals post-2009. Unfortunately, that has not happened.

The regime change in Sri Lanka and the regime change in India have changed local dynamics. If reports of the US Pacific Command are anything to go by, the ‘Look East’ policy of America is being pursued aggressively. Modi India’s tilt towards Russia and China – preferring to have stronger relationships with regional hegemons – will also have deep consequences for the whole South Asian region in the future. All of this warrants deep, unemotional, sober analysis – Sivaram style.

Sadly, the vast majority of the Tamil intelligentsia has not lived up to its historical responsibility. From the Oslo fraud to the ‘human rights’ festivals in Geneva, from Geneva to the ‘Singapore principles’ of 2013, Tamil intellectuals and political activists are being taken for a ride. Along with powerful global organizations like the ICG, mediator countries like South Africa are also heavily involved in thrusting a ‘reconciliation’ discourse on the Eelam Tamils.

While the pro-establishment Tamil intellectuals blindly toe the line set by the powers, the mainstream Tamil left, or whatever is left in it, is only mouthing empty catch-phrases and pipe-dreaming. Questions around the larger narrative of struggle and the core question of geo-politics are diluted and instead human interest, personalized sad-stories, narrow identity politics, apolitical accounts of human rights violations and defeatist conclusions are drawn.

But this should not be a cause for pessimism. It is quite natural for a people who endured an atrocity at the level of Mullivaaykaal to be shaken for a while. Other oppressed nations like the Kurds also have gone through such phases. We must learn from them that a nation’s ability to spring back to its feet politically depends on how soon it is able to organize itself intellectually.

“My interest is to create a body of knowledge to help oppressed people all over the world help themselves get out from under oppression,” Sivaram told his biographer Mark Whitaker.

Only a new generation of organic Tamil intellectuals, who have a clear understanding of changing global paradigms and who are able to create paradigm shifts in Tamil political discourse, can preserve and take forward Sivaram’s legacy.

This is the need of the hour.

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Pirapaharan at Sixty: The Meaning of the Man

Posted in Liberation Struggles by Karthick RM on December 8, 2014

Originally published on Sangam

Is Pirapaharan dead?

Ten years back, TamilNet senior editor and military analyst Taraki Sivaram wrote a brilliant piece on the political legacy of Pirapaharan at fifty.  Come 26 November this year, the founder-leader of the LTTE and one of the most brilliant military minds of South Asia will turn sixty.  Quite a lot has been said, by both admirers and adversaries, about the life of the man.  But what is his meaning?

It is impossible to understand Pirapaharan unless one understands the interrelated essences of Sangam poetry – love and war – and its influence on the Tamil military tradition.  The ethics of Tamil akam poetry, that of unconditional love towards the object of concern influences the ethics of the puram poetry, which calls for unconditional fidelity to the king and the kingdom.  However, even this unconditionality carries within it a condition that reinforces the unconditionality.  For instance, the woman of virtue (Tamil progressives will, and with ample justification, criticize this, but let us leave discussions about gender problems in epic poetry for another day) is the object of love because she is a woman of virtue, the love has a platonic character because of the virtuous nature of the object.  Likewise, the soldier’s fidelity to the king is because the king is loyal to the kingdom, and the king’s loyalty to the kingdom commands the soldier’s fidelity.  The object of love and the object of fidelity function as cornerstones in a discursive network, without which the network would collapse.  In other words, they provide meaning to the meaning of things.

In a sense that is Pirapaharan.  At sixty, in what some call the ‘post-conflict era’, the symbolism of Pirapaharan speaks that Tamil nationalism is alive and kicking.   The 5 lakh students who got out on the street in Tamil Nadu in early 2013, and thousands of protestors in the diaspora who challenged the injustice of the international community carried his image.  These activists believe that this image signifies Tamil nationalist resistance to oppression.  But isn’t this ‘idol worship’ problematic?

Commenting on the veneration of revolutionary leaders, Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle writes “‘Hero-worship’ becomes a fact inexpressibly precious; the most solacing fact one sees in the world at present.  There is an everlasting hope in it for the management of the world.  Had all traditions, arrangements, creeds, societies that men ever instituted, sunk away, this would remain.  The certainty of Heroes being sent us; our faculty, our necessity, to reverence Heroes when sent: it shines like a polestar through smoke-clouds, dust-clouds, and all manner of downrushing and conflagration.”  An oxymoronic, mostly moronic, ‘liberal left’ discredits the idea of leadership.  No less a person than Lenin believed that a revolution required revolutionary leaders who stuck to their principles, and were willing to make decisions that the ordinary could not make.  This belief is reinstated by contemporary philosophers like Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou, who also argue that a true revolutionary leader represents a Universal over and beyond narrow particulars.

While Lilliputian minds would fix a region, religion or caste label to Pirapaharan, the real ideological significance of Pirapaharan is that he transcends these narrow particularities and serves as a Universal referent for Tamil nationalists.  Not only is Pirapaharan now a symbol of Eelam Tamil nationalism, he has also transfigured as a symbol of Tamil civilizational consciousness.  What else explains the tens of thousands of youth in Tamil Nadu considering an Eelam Tamil leader as their own Tamil hero who provided a promise of Tamil renaissance?

But every great uniter is also a divider.  As Pirapaharan becomes the symbolic standard that unites patriots, he is also the standard that separates traitors.  The Pirapaharan school of thought, which is the radical extension of the thoughts of V. Navaratnam and SJV Chelvanayagam, as much as it is a standard for evaluating patriotism, also becomes the scale by which treason is judged.  To be a true Christian, it is imperative to believe in the struggle between Good and Evil, not just external Evil, but also the Evil that is internal.  Likewise, to be a Tamil nationalist in the footsteps of Pirapaharan means not just an opposition to the Sinhala state and its allies, but also traitors who undermine the struggle from within.  And for that, we need to keep reminding ourselves what Pirapaharan means, what is the idea of Pirapaharan.

Coming back to the original question – Is Pirapaharan dead?  This might confuse some people, but I would say that Pirapaharan the individual died when he founded the LTTE. Ever since, what has existed is an idea.  An idea that means sovereign Tamil Eelam; the creation of a society that is based on universal principles of justice and equality; a society without regionalism, communalism, sexism or casteism; a society where the love of heroic passions replaces the lust for trivial sentiments; a society without particularist chauvinism or cheap liberal cosmopolitanism; the creation of a people who resonate the glories of the Tamil past purging it of all darkness and enriching it with the emancipatory narrative of a universal future; the idea that the impossible can be made possible by the Will to Freedom.

And ideas, like heroes, are immortal.

Finally, when people ask questions like “Will Pirapaharan come back,” I remember a conversation I had with a Jesuit in Chennai.  I asked him “Do you really believe in the Second Coming of Christ?”  He replied nonchalantly, “I do not know if he will come or not. But if he does, I want to be sure that I have remained a true Christian, that I have done all in my power to serve the humanity he so loved so that he will be pleased on arrival.”  This is precisely the spirit that Tamil nationalists must adopt now.

Mullivaaykaal: A Time of Hope, Anger and Courage

Posted in Liberation Struggles by Karthick RM on May 27, 2014

Originally published on JDS

“Hope has two beautiful daughters – Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that things do not remain that way.”
-Quote attributed to St. Augustine

Five years after Mullivaaykaal, the worst slaughter in the history of not just the Eelam Tamil nation, but the Tamil civilization as a whole. A few resolutions have been passed at Geneva asking the Sri Lankan state to behave itself without, of course, any mention of genocide. The same applies for several reports by high-profile international NGOs that talked about torture, militarization, sexual abuse, human rights etc. A few popular documentaries have been released by media organizations that have shown their audiences the suffering of the Tamil people in the island during the war and after. But as a nation, where are the Eelam Tamils? As a civilization, where are the Tamils?

A hitherto unheard of student uprising took place in Tamil Nadu last year, opposing the pro-LLRC US resolution in Geneva. This uprising triggered off similar protests in the diaspora, where grassroots organizations and activists united on a principled political platform. More than anything, the protestors were united by Hope, Anger and Courage. It was also obvious by the protest symbols used, that these activists from Tamil Nadu and the diaspora are ensuring the survival of the Tiger legacy of uncompromising resistance to oppression.

Liberal feminists like Radhika Coomaaraswamy claim that Tigers promoted a “culture of death”. However, any genuine revolutionary fighting a brutal state would know that the Tiger’s culture was a celebration of life and all the best elements in one’s culture.

“Words are weapons” said Latin American writer Eduardo Galeano. Let us have a look at some the words that the LTTE used in the course of their struggle. They did not say that the cadres who fell in battle “iranthu poanaar” – “they died”. They said “kaaviyamaanaar” – “they became poetic history”. Those who became poetic history were not “buried in graveyards” – “kallaraiyil pithaikkappattaar”. They were “sown in resting abodes” – “thuyilum illathil vithaippattaar”. Those sown in the resting abodes were not “thyaagi” – “martyrs”. They were “maaveerar” – “heroes”. The Tigers, we must understand, used the martial elements from traditional Tamil culture to give a people resisting genocidal oppression a sense of hope, destiny and faith in the future of an independent Tamil Eelam.

However, after a colossal tragedy like Mullivaaykaal, it is but obvious there would be some sense of loss among the Tamils. But the strong ones and the politically principled recover while the weak and politically vacillating elements become victim to the enemy’s psychological war. Confusion, distrust, loss of faith, cynicism, fear, death wishes, suicidal impulses, “auto-oppression”, reluctance to identify with one’s own people, a perverse comfort in promoting disunity, a contempt for one’s culture – all of these are effects of psy-ops on a victim.

The genocide may have been executed on the Eelam Tamil nation. But it is the Tamil civilization, which constitutes over 80 million Tamils world over, which is at war now. A genocidal state and its international abettors have thrown us a challenge. It is not “submit or perish” – it is “submit and perish”. What happens in Tamil Eelam affects Tamil Nadu. What affects Tamil Nadu affects the diaspora. More and beyond the physical deaths of our brothers and sisters in the Tamil Eelam homeland, it is the death of our souls that the oppressors aim at. They want us to reek in despair, desolation and denial.

We must respond with Hope, Anger and Courage.

We need to have Hope. Hope in ourselves as individuals, hope in our people, hope in our language, hope in our culture, hope in our martial legacy, hope in our destiny, hope in our victory. Above all, hope in our Heroes, and hope in LTTE leader Pirapaharan’s school of thought.

We need to have Anger. Anger against the killers, anger against those who assisted them, anger against those who deny what happened, anger against those who obfuscate the Truth, anger against the sell-outs, anger against those who sow disunity, discord and depression.

We need to have Courage. Courage to stand by our identity and ideals, courage to speak Truth to power, courage to uphold the national flag, courage to celebrate our Heroes, courage to belive in the triumph of our civilization, courage to sacrifice, courage to Love, courage to fight.

And we also need Vision. To end with the words of Maximillien Robespierre, the ideological patriarch of modern day revolutionaries,

“We wish in our country that morality may be substituted for egotism, probity for false honour, principles for usages, duties for good manners, the empire of reason for the tyranny of fashion, a contempt of vice for a contempt of misfortune, pride for insolence, magnanimity for vanity, the love of glory for the love of money, good people for good company, merit for intrigue, genius for wit, truth for tinsel show, the attractions of happiness for the ennui of sensuality, the grandeur of man for the littleness of the great, a people magnanimous, powerful, happy, for a people amiable, frivolous and miserable”

In a word, all the virtues and miracles of a sovereign Tamil Eelam, instead of all the vices and absurdities of unitary Sri Lanka.

நம்புங்கள்! சிந்தியுங்கள்! தமிழீழம் நாளை பிறக்கும்!

Posted in Liberation Struggles by Karthick RM on May 16, 2014

மரணக் கலாச்சாரத்தைப் புலிகள் பின்பற்றிணார்கள் என்று ராதிகா குமாரசாமி போன்ற ஒரு சில பெண்ணியவாதிகள் பழி சுமத்துகிறார். ஆனால் இனப்படுகொலைக்கு எதிராக, ஒரு ஒடுக்கப்பட்ட மக்களின் தாயகத்தை மீட்க்கும் ஒரு போராட்டத்தை நடத்துபவனுக்குத் தான் புரியும், புலிகளின் கலாச்சாரம் வாழ்க்கையின் கொண்டாட்டமென்று. இது அவர் பயன் படுத்திய ஒரு சில சொற்களிலிருந்து நாம் அரிந்துக்கொள்ளலாம்.

“வார்த்தைகளும் ஆயுதமே” என்று லத்தின் அமெரிக்க எழுத்தாளர் எடுவார்டோ கலியானோ (Eduardo Galeano) சொன்னார். புலிகள் பயன்படுத்திய ஒரு சில வார்த்தைகளைப் பார்ப்போம். போர் களத்தில் விழுந்த போராளிகளை இறந்துப்போனார் என்று சொல்வதில்லை – காவியமானார் என்று சொல்வார்கள். காவியமான போராளிகளைக் கல்லறையில் பிதைப்பதில்லை – துயிலும் இல்லத்தில் விதைக்கிறார்கள். விதைக்கப்பட்ட போராளிகளைத் தியாகி என்று அழைப்பதில்லை – மாவீரர் என்று அழைக்கிறார்கள். களத்தில் நின்ற கடைசி நாள்வரை, ஒவ்வொரு சொல்லையும் மக்களுக்கு வாழ்க்கையிலும் வெற்றியிலும் நம்பிக்கை தரும் முறையாகப் பாவித்தார்கள்.

ஹுசேன் புல்ஹான் (Hussein Bulhan) என்னும் மனத்தத்துவ விஞ்ஞானி சொல்கிறார், தொடர்ச்சியான, ஓய்வுப்பெராத ஒடுக்குமுறையைச் சந்திக்கும் மக்களுக்கு வாழ்க்கையில் வெறுப்பு வந்து, தன்னைத்தானே அழித்துக்கொள்ளும் நோக்கங்கள் வரும். இது இனப்படுகொலை புறியும் அரசின் ஒரு உளவியல் போர் தந்திரம். மனச்சோர்வு, குழப்பம், “அய்யோ இப்படி ஆயிருச்சே” என்ற வருத்தம், அரசியலிலும் போராட்டத்திலும் அவ நம்பிக்கை, மரண ஆசை, போதையின் மீது காதல், வாழ்க்கையிலிருந்தும் சொந்த மக்களிடமிருந்தும் தப்ப வேண்டும் என்ற ஆசை – இது அத்தனையும் உளவியல் போர் உண்டாக்க கூடும். முள்ளிவாய்க்காலுக்குப் பின், இந்த உளவியல் போருக்கு பலியான பல நபர்களை நம்மாள் அடையாளம் கான முடியும்.

இதனை எதிர்க்க ஒரே வழி தான். நம்பிக்கை. ஒவ்வொரு விடுதலைப் போராட்டத்தின் அஸ்த்திவாரமே நம்பிக்கை தான். வாழ்க்கையின் மீது, மக்களின் மீது, உங்கள் கலாச்சாரத்தின் மீது, உங்கள் மொழியின் மீது, உங்களின் மீது… மிகவும் முக்கியமாக, உங்கள் மாவீரர்களின் மீது, தலைவரின் சிந்தனை பள்ளியின் மீது.

நம்பிக்கையின் இனைப்பிரியா சகோதரி சிந்தனை. நம்பிக்கை இல்லாத சிந்தனை தோல்வி மனப்பான்மையையும் துரோக அரசியலையும் உண்டாக்கும். சிந்தனை இல்லாத நம்பிக்கை எங்கும் போகாத பாதைக்குள் இழுத்துச்செல்லும்.

நம்புங்கள். சிந்தியுங்கள். தமிழீழம் நாளை பிறக்கும்.

ஐ. சி. ஜீயின் விளையாட்டு

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on May 16, 2014

ஐ. சி. ஜீ (ICG – International Crisis Group) முன்னால் தலைவரான கரெத் இவான்ஸ் சில நாட்களுக்கு முன்பு ஈழ தமிழருக்கு நடந்தது இனப்படுகொலை இல்லை, மற்றும் இனப்படுகொலைப் பற்றின விவாதம் புலம்பெயர்ந்த தமிழ் மக்களின் பிரச்சாரம் என்று சொல்லியிருக்கிறார். இனப்படுகொலையிலிருந்து பாதுகாப்பதற்காக மக்களுக்கு வழங்கப்பட வேண்டிய இறைமை (remedial sovereignty) தமிழ் மக்களுக்கு உள்ளதா என்ற கேள்விக்கு இவர் ‘அதையெல்லாம் இப்பொழுது பேசாதீர்கள்’ என்று சொல்லியிருக்கிறார். அவரைப் பொருத்த வரையில், இலங்கை தவறுகள் செய்தது, ஆனால் இப்போதைக்கு இலங்கை அரசாங்கத்தை பொறுப்புள்ள அரசாங்கமாக ஆக்குவது தான் சர்வதேசத்தின் கடமை.

இவான்ஸ் என்பவர் தமிழ் மக்களுக்கு எதிரான போர் நடந்த நேரத்தில் ஐ.சி.ஜீ.யின் தலைமை பொருப்பில் நின்றார். சர்வதேச அரசியல் தத்துவத்தில் (International Political Theory) இவர் ஒரு முக்கிய புள்ளி. ஈழ விடுதலை போராட்டத்துக்கு எதிராக மேற்கத்திய நாடுகளில் ஒரு தவறான கருத்து உருவாக்குவதில் ஐ.சி.ஜீக்கு ஒரு பெரிய பங்கு உண்டு. ‘மனித உரிமை’, ‘குழந்தைகள் உரிமை’, ‘பெண்ணுரிமை’ என்ற போர்வையில், புலிகளுக்கு எதிராக ஒரு அறிவிக்கப்படாத தகவல் போர் (undeclared information war) இதுப்போன்ற அமைப்புகள் நடத்தினார்கள்.

இரண்டு வருடத்துக்கு முன், தமிழ்நெட்டில் வந்த ஒரு பேட்டியில், ஐ.சி.ஜீயின் இலங்கை பொருப்பாளரான அலன் கீனன் சர்வதேச விசாரனை நடந்தால், அதில் இனப்படுகொலை விசாரனையையும் சேர்க்கலாம் என்று சொன்னார். இப்போ, திரு இவான்ஸ் அவர்கள் அதைப்பத்தின பேச்சே இப்போ தேவையில்லை என்று சொல்கிறார்.

இதுபோன்ற சர்வதேச அரசுசாரா அமைப்புக்களின் (International NGOs) சதுரங்க விளையாட்டுகளை நாம் கவனிக்க வேண்டும். அதில் காய்களாக நாம் சிக்க கூடாது.

Indian PM’s Boycott of CHOGM, Foreign Policy, and Tamil Nadu’s Role

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on November 12, 2013

Originally published on The Weekend Leader

Contrary to claims in certain sections of the Indian media that the Indian Prime Minister not taking part in Sri Lanka’s CHOGM compromises the country’s ‘national foreign policy’ in favour of ‘regional interests’, a decision by the highest political authority of India to avoid participation in this event is precisely in favour of India’s national interests.

If India really had long-term strategic vision, it would completely boycott the CHOGM, but that is a different argument.

Let us also leave the moral question of engaging with Sri Lanka – a country accused of genocide, war crimes, systematic rape and torture – aside.

What could be a rational reason for Dr. Manmohan Singh to boycott the CHOGM?

The Arthashastra emphasises that the welfare of a state depends on an active foreign policy. The operative word here being ‘active’.

An active foreign policy takes into consideration not just relations between states, but also intra-state relations, especially those between power blocs within a state, and the geographical location of these power blocs.

In the Sri Lankan context, an active foreign policy of India must, in all rationality, be mediated by the geographical and demographic power bloc that is Tamil Nadu, which is historically and culturally, not to mention emotionally, connected to Tamil Eelam.

In that sense, the ‘regional interests’ of Tamil Nadu must be part of any Indian foreign policy calculation vis-a-vis Sri Lanka.

At no point of time in history has pro-Tamil Eelam activism in Tamil Nadu been so politically charged and conceptually clear as in the years succeeding the genocide in May 2009.

The new generation activists, smooth, suave and adept in their use of social media for political purposes, have generated tremors in the state in their protests against the US resolution earlier this year.

The heat generated by the Tamil Nadu youth, besides inspiring diaspora youth to stage similar protests, also compelled the Tamil Nadu government to pass resolutions calling for a referendum among the Eelam Tamils.

And it is precisely their pressure and that of grassroots Tamil political parties, which compelled Tamil Nadu State Assembly to pass a unanimous resolution calling for a full Indian boycott of CHOGM in Sri Lanka.

There is another thing to note here. While pre-2009 pro-Tamil Eelam activism in Tamil Nadu was directed primarily against Sri Lanka, after May 2009 the informed political discourse began challenging the role of the world establishments – especially the US and India – and their role in assisting the Sinhala state.

Except during the period of anti-Hindi agitations in Tamil Nadu, at no other point has Tamil civil society been mobilized en masse to challenge a policy of the Indian Centre.

After all this, if Dr. Manmohan Singh, the political head of the Indian state, goes to Sri Lanka, not only would it have been suicidal for the Congress party’s political prospects in Tamil Nadu, it also would have given fuel to greater anti-Centre sentiments in the region.

So, a decision for Dr. Singh to boycott the CHOGM is indeed taken in ‘national interest’.

If those ‘experts’ in the media commenting on “foreign policy objectives” and placing national interest over “political expediency” fail to take this into account, it only reflects their sad ignorance of ground reality.

It should be added here that activists in Tamil Nadu are not satisfied with this gesture alone and continue to demand a total boycott of CHOGM and the removal of Sri Lanka from the body.

Informed activism in Tamil Nadu has a reached a stage where it knows to differentiate a symbolic gesture from a strategic victory.

Yet, can anything be deciphered from Dr. Singh’s decision?

One, the Indian government realizes that Tamil Nadu can turn volatile on Sri Lankan issue and therefore is trying to balance collective Tamil sentiments.

Two, the pressure exerted by peaceful democratic mass movements in Tamil Nadu has a potential to influence the centre via the periphery.

Three, Indian foreign policy on Sri Lanka cannot be blind to the power bloc of Tamil Nadu as it has been doing all the while. It needs to take in the ‘local’ factor into consideration if it indeed has a long-term ‘national’ vision.

Overall, Dr. Singh’s absence at the CHOGM signifies a symbolic victory for Tamil Nadu. Though symbolic, a victory nevertheless!

After all, the British Prime Minister is attending the meeting despite protests in his country against the same. Besides, this move is also a snub to Northern Province Chief Minister Wigneswaran and certain ‘analysts’ from Colombo who were pleading with the Indian PM to attend.

The power relations are rather explicit here. It is obvious that a strong Chennai carries more impact than a dummy in Jaffna or the stooges of Colombo.

India needs a serious re-think on its overall policy towards Sri Lanka. In this Information Age, the Tamils world over have emerged as a well-networked community.

Activists from three centres of Tamil power namely Tamil Nadu, Tamil Eelam and the Tamil Diaspora actively engage in knowledge sharing exercises through various medium, constantly expanding their spheres of influence in opinion making.

Through shared images, notes, articles and videos, the Tamils are constructing a political discourse that informs them of the oppression the Eelam Tamils suffer in the island and the remedy that is required.

And this creates intellectual ammunition for critical and radical voices in the Tamil Nadu polity.

The key questions that Indian foreign policy analysts with vision should consider is this – given that it is in the very nature of the Sri Lankan state to be hostile to Tamil interests, wouldn’t you rather lose Sri Lanka as a friend than gain Tamil Nadu’s enmity?

Does India really want to create instability in Tamil Nadu for the sake of creating stability for the Sinhala state? Does India want to antagonize a Tamil community that is global in its reach and potential for the sake of a failed state?

As for Dr. Singh’s decision, this symbolic victory of the Tamil Nadu activists must be converted to a strategic victory by eventually compelling the Indian government to do a complete re-evaluation and an overhaul of its current myopic foreign policy towards Sri Lanka.

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.

References

[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

The Master and his Puppets: Some Comments on ‘Tamil Moderates’

Posted in Politics, War by Karthick RM on May 18, 2013

Article jointly written by Krisna Saravanamuttu and myself. Originally published on JDS

Unca Sam's HR concernsAround Geneva, the Rajapaksa regime and its mercenaries raise some self-righteous noise against the ‘neo-colonialists’ in the West. Quarters in the US-led West, tired with Rajapaksa’s intransigence wrt the human rights situation in the island and his supposed inability to provide a stable liberal democratic regime, have been releasing this report and that resolution criticizing the current state of affairs in the island. This contradiction will grow. The US will get angry with Sri Lanka for being unable to provide stability. Its natural allies then will be the Tamils, who are inherently free-market capitalists. And voila, you will have Tamil Eelam on a platter.

Or so some Tamil pundits in the West fantasize. And thus, they believe that it is in the best interest of the Tamil nation to adopt the narrative of ‘reconciliation and accountability’ that is chanted as a prayer in the hallways of Geneva. You don’t want to disappoint your large hearted allies after all.

We wish we could share such colorful dreams, but realpolitik is sadly very sober and requires a ratiocination of the most rigorous kind. Trust ‘Taraki’ Sivaram, senior editor of TamilNet and military analyst, an exemplar of parrhesia, the courage to speak truth to power, and who was assassinated for the same virtue.

In the feature he was working on at the time of his death, ‘US’s strategic interests in Sri Lanka’, noting the defense cooperation between US-Sri Lanka, Sivaram argued that “Stabilizing the Sri Lanka state was considered critical for the US at this juncture to consolidate and cement its strategic interests here. The LTTE was a stubborn impediment to achieving this end – particularly the constant threat to Trincomalee and Palaly. Containing the Liberation Tigers and making them more malleable were also identified as priorities.”

A year later, the west managed peace process collapsed, LTTE was criminalized in Europe under US-UK pressure, and Sri Lanka got a free hand to continue its war on the Tamil nation to the best of its potential. And oh, the Sri Lanka signed the Acquisition and Cross Service Agreement with the USA in 2007, a deal to secure exchanges in logistical support, supplies and services. On another front, the Tamil diaspora was extensively studied by US based defense corporations like RAND in studies like the 2001 publication “Trends in Outside Support for Insurgent Movements” or the 2007 article by William Rosenau ‘Subversion and Insurgency’, where the author describes the LTTE as “Subversion on five continents”.[1] The internationally coordinated COIN ops against the Tamil struggle that led to the climax of the genocidal war in 2009 have been discussed earlier.

But why criticize American concern for human rights now? Doesn’t Uncle Sam have a heart after all?

In his feature referred above, Sivaram had said “The ‘management’ of the ethnic conflict, among other things, is also important for the US to “sufficiently” expand and consolidate its military and intelligence relations with Sri Lanka as an important security partner in the region.”

One portion of this ‘management’ was the internationally coordinated war on the LTTE. And the US is pretty honest on this – Ambassador Michelle Sison in an event in Sri Lanka on March 2013 affirmed “The U.S. also helped the government and people of Sri Lanka in every way we could to try to end the LTTE’s reign of terror”. She also talked about reconciliation and accountability.

Moreover, to properly analyze the current American engagement with the Tamil liberation struggle, we must objectively establish the history of US engagement with the island’s politics. To this end, Jeffrey Lunstead, former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, provides an insider’s perspective in his report The United States’ Role in Sri Lanka’s Peace Process. Though the US publicly espoused its support to a politically negotiated solution, in actuality it provided a “commitment to strengthening the Sri Lankan Armed Forces”.[2] The American strategy marginalized the LTTE in the international arena (i.e. maintaining the LTTE on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list, excluding the LTTE from the Washington Donor Conference) and intensified the US military-to-military relationship with the Sri Lankan government.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in on 19th November 2006. Two days later Under Secretary Burns said “We also believe that the Tamil Tigers, the LTTE, is a terrorist group responsible for massive bloodshed in the country and we hold the Tamil Tigers responsible for much of what has gone wrong in the country. We are not neutral in this respect. We support the government”.[3]

The Americans provided the Sri Lankans with training, education, and weapons infrastructure. The US played a key role in cutting off the LTTE’s own financial networks yet it handed over millions in foreign military funding to the Sri Lankan government. And Paul Moorcraft, a British military analyst, in his recent book on the war in the island notes the level of assistance that the US gave to Sri Lanka, including the advice to use cluster bombs against the Tamil population.[4] All this while the US insisted that it sought to deter war and not encourage it.

The other portion of this ‘management’ is best observed at, what one diaspora grassroots activist so poignantly termed, ‘the Geneva thiruvizha’. Introducing the US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka, 2013. No talk on Tamil nationhood. No talk on Tamil genocide. No mention even of the word ‘Tamil’. But yes, “reconciliation and accountability.”

In order to pacify the Diaspora, the backers of US based resolution give the false impression that it is against Sri Lanka and its adoption would somehow benefit the Tamils. The resolution, whose only implicit reference to the Tamil struggle is ‘terrorism’, harps on reconciliation and the LLRC as a solution to the ongoing conflict. The undeniable fact, however, is that the LLRC was conceived as an escape route for Sri Lanka. When legitimate criticism does emerge about the LLRC based approach, the knee jerk reaction of its lobbyists is to simply argue that the UNHRC resolution is a ‘first step.’ A fine ‘first step’ indeed. Towards a political disaster, perhaps.

After the Mullivaaykaal genocide, Sivaram’s analysis of COIN remains critical to assessing American engagement with the Tamil Diaspora. A key COIN tactic Sivaram addressed was “the promotion and propagation of the conceptual/political dichotomy of the moderate and the militant/terrorist”.[5] Today the Diaspora seems to be a target in US COIN strategy, wherein “the global proscription regime is an institutional, structural violence which criminalizes diaspora politics and affective connections to the idea of Tamil Eelam”.[6] Unfortunately, some sections of the Tamil lobby Diaspora developed selective amnesia regarding US intervention to tilt the parity of status earned by the Tamils in favor of the Sri Lankan war machinery.

First, any serious observer of the Tamil Liberation struggle cannot deny the role played by the global Tamil Diaspora. After all, it was the same Diaspora that was criminalized through the US led proscription of the LTTE in the western world due to its moral, political and economic support of the liberation struggle. The U.S. Army & Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (2007) advises, “Victory is achieved when the populace consents to the government’s legitimacy and stops actively and passively supporting the insurgency”. Thus, to establish victory over the Tamil independence struggle on the international front, the Tamil Diaspora must be conceptually and politically demobilized from its primary objective.

The pro US lobbyists may argue that the Americans looked away in a ‘war without witnesses.’ The sad truth, as seen above, is that the Americans and their allies provided the weapons and the diplomatic cover for Sri Lanka to commit the 2009 genocide. The defeat of the LTTE and the 2009 genocide are an example of what Herman and Peterson called a “constructive genocide” that served the major US interests of stabilizing the island by getting rid of the stubborn LTTE impediment.

With the defeat of the military force of Tamil independence, the US fixed its aims on the Diaspora political force by seeking to reshape and moderate the terms of the debate. Classical COIN theorists like Galula have stressed the importance of the counterinsurgent to work on appropriating and diluting the cause of the insurgent so as to eradicate support while contemporary theorists like Kilcullen have stressed the importance of creating an alternate narrative that excludes the narrative of the insurgent.

To distort and dilute the cause of the Tamil liberation struggle, the LLRC based approach is attempting to change and moderate the debate from sovereignty, freedom, and self-determination to accommodation, integration and co-existence, thus moderating the perception of the oppressed about the conflict rather than helping end the system of oppression itself. The debate shifts from genocide and national liberation to individual human rights problems and political devolution, which can be rectified under a more liberal, democratic Sri Lankan regime. A recent TamilNet feature raised a question whether resolutions and HR reports that fail to recognize genocide or Tamil sovereign nationhood is the other side of a coin where military minds hail the ‘Sri Lanka model’ as a successful addition to COIN theory.

The lobbyists in favor of the US resolution are given the bait of political recognition while those who reject it on principled grounds are deemed as radicals and leftists. The ‘moderates’ are seen to be effective because they can invite their political masters in the west to their meetings and engage in photo ops with them. Yet, the ‘moderates’ can only beg for scraps of justice from their masters but remain powerless to halt, challenge or even address western complicity in the structural and protracted genocide that the Tamil homeland endures.

Why does this same lobby not reject the US approach and demand a more concrete political program of an international investigation and a referendum to establish a sovereign Tamil Eelam? Hair-splitting and claims of being pragmatic aside, the answer is that the pro-US lobby will lose its utility in the eyes of its political superiors at the US State Department. Some take up the ‘reconciliation for all citizens’ narrative as conscious agents, getting perks, grants, and funding. Others do it as unconscious agents, in the best of intentions that by bending over backwards, the world powers will pay heed to Tamil suffering and deliver justice. Either way, the effect is the same.

Of course, the liberal lobbyist brigades will argue that they are keenly aware of the broader strategy at play. These ‘moderates’ insist that they are politically savvy and clever enough to navigate through the western agenda and secure Tamil liberation. Sadly, it is one thing to think like an American and an entirely different thing to think the way the American wants you to think. Confused and impotent, they forget that the dog can wag the tail but the tail can never wag the dog.

Through the use of a resolution that is impotent as far as the Tamil nation is concerned and reports that do not address the crucial questions facing the Tamil nation, the US is pushing for a more user-friendly regime in Colombo. Emphasizing the paradigm of human rights and reconciliation over liberation and justice will in the end only help Sri Lanka rehabilitate itself in the world when a more liberal regime takes over from Rajapaksa.

Like the butchers Pinochet, Pol Pot or the recent Efrain Rios Montt, it can be argued that the US may someday discard Rajapaksa when his usefulness to them is over – or it may not. Rajapaksa’s personal fortunes or misfortunes are of no concrete concern to the Tamil nation. The point is whether Tamil Eelam is to be or not to be. And those who choose to obscure it are by definition against it. It is that simple.

But do puppets ever see the strings attached?

Notes:

1. William Rosenau, “Subversion and Insurgency”, RAND Report prepared for the Office of Secretary of Defence, 2007, p12

2. Jeffrey Lunstead “The United States’ Role in Sri Lanka’s Peace Process: 2002-2006.” Colombo 7: The Asia Foundation (2007), p17

3. Ibid, p39

4. Paul Moorcraft, “Total Destruction of the Tamil Tigers: The Rare Victory of Sri Lanka’s Long War”, South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword, (2012), p110

5. Mark Whitaker, “Learning Politics From Sivaram: The Life and Death of a Revolutionary Tamil Journalist in Sri Lanka”, London: Pluto Press, (2007), p152

6. Vicki Sentas’ “One more successful war? Tamil diaspora and counter-terrorism after the LTTE” in “Counter-Terrorism and state political violence: The ‘war on terror’ as terror” edited by Scott Poynting and David Whyte, Routledge (2012), p111

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.