Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Sri Lanka: LTTE kept country large enough for all, divided by 30 years of terror

By Dr. M. A. Mohamed Saleem
Source: Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law & Order - Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

A statement found in The Island editorial of 19th May 2009 -- "This country is too small to be divided along ethnic lines but certainly large enough for all communities" -- prompted the title for this article. Essence of this wisdom was of no consequence at the time of independence as it was anticipated that parliamentary type of government would suit the plural society of this country. The constitutional provision S.29 (2c) - No Parliamentary law shall "Confer on persons of any community or religion any privilege or advantage which is not conferred on persons of other communities or religions"- was to have ensured an environment of equity and justice for all communities regardless of their ethnic diversity, numerical strengths and territorial affiliations. Unfortunately, this did not happen and our Sinhalese-ness, Tamil-ness and Muslim-ness continue to provide fuel for confrontational and divisive politics.

Parliamentary democracy is understood in this country as a game of numbers, and politicians continue to manipulate and exploit human diversity to form groupings to ensure at least one of them outnumber the others, so that, the majority group acquired the power to rule. Since independence, this country has had many "psychological" divisions and people have identified with one of the camps to elect their representatives to the parliament. As the pre-occupation of the rulers was appeasement of the majority and the supporters, it sent out a message of marginalization to others, and such divisionary dispensations by political parties for short term gains did not allow patriotism to take root and flourish in the country. Instead, sensing a 'systematic' and insensitive force at work to sideline minorities from the main stream, Tamils opted for a permanent division of the country.

One group in particular-the LTTE- terrorised and held everyone under threats of guns and bombs, including fellow Tamils who believed in moderation and non-violence, for thirty years to make secession a reality. The position, in particular of the current government, is that the country is small to be divided, and if divided, everyone will stand to loose. Recently, President Mahinda Rajapaksa proclaimed that "No longer are the Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays and others minorities", thus removing the root cause of factionary traits to persist in this country, and reminding that, the country belongs to all its citizens. Therefore, anyone who tries to divide the country has no place in it, and as recently demonstrated, people of this country will resist anything that obstructs its integrity as a sovereign nation.

This country has waited 60years for a leader to undertake a commitment that the country is large enough for all citizens to live happily as Sri Lankans, respecting and not despising each other as Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. Skeptics argue that divisiveness among the different communities runs so deep, and the extremists among them (though in the minority) are very active, disruptive and, therefore, will not allow moderation and accept all citizens on the same platform. At the recent Indian elections political analysts predicted regionalism and religious extremism to play a major part. The outcome however proved them wrong, as voters down played issues that potentially could incite factionalism and preferred to embrace secularism; desiring youth energy in the system of governance and improvement of social welfare as a vote rallying point. This may be the beginning of a new political trend in this part of the world,

Unfortunately, factionalist tendencies are continuing to provide vitality for political parties and inciting discord in otherwise peaceful convergence of the different communities in Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa's address at the opening of the fourth session of Parliament on May 19th 2009 - "We have removed the word minorities from our vocabulary three years ago" comes as a reassurance of his conviction that unless the majority-minority factionalism is eschewed the people will not be ready "to direct our motherland to that new era of national revival". At times of adversity, the people of this country have demonstrated a remarkable trait to break barriers and help the needy. Compassion is ingrained in us but, it is short lived. When competition takes the better of us there is no space for anyone else, and governments since independence had not given confidence that, rightfully, every citizen has a space in this country. By expunging 'minorities' from the Sri Lankan vocabulary President Rajapaksa has now created that space for all and also pre-empted a new course for Sri Lanka with a central rallying point for reconciliation and communal amity to leap into the next era..

Reconstruction, resettlement and rehabilitation will be the immediate challenge in the new Sri Lanka era. Of these, reconstruction of infra structure will be the easiest, visible and attractive as it involves contractual and gratifying transactions. Resettlement and rehabilitation tasks are difficult but more humane and critical, and will have to be expertly handled to avoid a repeat of secessionist proclivity in the new Sri Lanka. Tamils, particularly the post 1983-pogrom generation, living in the virtual Elam have remained conditioned to make tough sacrifices, pending heavenly prosperity promised to them when they crossed from the land of the 'monsters' to the real Elam. Unfortunately, those who are in the age group below 30 may not have even sighted other human kind outside their kinship until the recent encounter with the Government soldiers and that too in fighting gear. With all the discipline and humane dispensation of the government forces in retrieving the entrapped Tamil civilians to safety it will still take a very long time to break through Tamil prejudice and the propaganda barriers that have been erected against other communities of this country. A special programme of social engineering to build bridges, facilitate cross faith interactions and regain inter community trust is urgently required.

The Tamils believed that they were fighting for an identity and to take pride in their ability controlling their own affairs. Such feelings cannot be blotted out by eliminating the LTTE but, they can be made irrelevant by the treatment Tamils receive in the new Sri Lanka. Although there have been some governmental steps to address the original grievances in respect of the use of Tamil language and discrimination in employment etc the bureaucracy lacked enthusiasm to implement changes. As a result, someone who is non-proficient in Sinhalese is at a loss and left to the mercy of the staff when he turns up at a public office. In the future however, under a strict compliance of Sri Lankan identity by all citizens, no Sri Lankan should feel unduly privileged, deprived or disadvantaged in this country on account religion, caste, place of origin or non-proficiency in either Sinhalese or Tamil although it will be desirable for every citizen of this country to become proficient in the two national languages.

Over the last few years there has been a growing public interest and also government support to learning English as a necessity to be skilled in the globalizing economies and confluence of varying cultures. With emphasis on IT and English introduced by the President even at the grass root levels, English may as well become the common link language in Sri Lanka and go a long way for the national unity.

Sri Lanka faces a mammoth task of resettlement of the displaced people and restoring some level of normalcy. The government can simplify its task by encouraging people of every village to directly take charge of development of that village. Empowerment of each village to look after its development, with mandatory assistance from the government, can start in the IDP camps itself as a part of the rehabilitation process. So that, when people return to their villages, they will mentally be prepared to form their village development councils or the gramarajyas. By this process every garmarajya will simultaneously be engaged in development of the immediate locality, and therefore normalcy can be regained much faster.

War has proved that the Tamils have tremendous endurance and goal oriented commitment which combined with their well demonstrated creativity, ingenuity, and organisational abilities will make them re-bounce much faster once they are back in their villages. When gramarajyas are properly run each one of them is likely to receive financial and other development inputs from the Tamil Diaspora, and investment and progress can easily be monitored as the receiving gramarajya will be liable. How best can Sri Lanka attract and tap these resources for the benefit of the entire country should now become the prime interest of the government. This requires attitudinal changes and willingness to recognise and reward merit at the risk of displeasing the unwilling mediocrity entrenched in some public services. Sri Lanka is now at the cross roads of moving forward, cleansed of the past and with a common vision shared by all towards collective nation building and prosperity or to plunge back into another unknown era of bitter interethnic rivalries fanned by divisive politics. It is on the choice we make depends whether our small country will be large enough for all to live in peace and achieve prosperity.
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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