Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sri Lanka: Would the wounds heal? Is there a tomorrow?

It’s been more than a year since the conclusion of Sri Lanka’s civil war and the din just refuses to die, for good and bad reasons. Its good in as much as there is continued focus on rehabilitating the war destitute and being vigilant on human rights abuses by a not so magnanimous victor. This continued noise about Sri Lanka in India and elsewhere by Tamils and Tamil expatriates is more counter-productive and in fact it’s mostly divorced from reality.

If Hutu’s and Tutsi’s can make peace in Rwanda I see no reason for Sri Lankan Tamils for not making peace with Sinhalese (or vice versa). If Jews can still live in Germany I see no reason as to why Tamils cannot live in unified Sri Lanka. If Kurds can live in Iraq and Armenians in Turkey (Turkey still denies to call the Armenian Massacre a genocide, in fact calling it so is a punishable crime) what compelling reasons do Sri Lankan Tamils have for vivisecting a land to which they had emigrated to? Sikhs and Muslims still live in India despite organized pogroms. Dalits still live in Tamil Nadu despite Tamil Nadu ranking 5th in anti-Dalit violence. Brahmins and Forward community people still live in Tamil Nadu despite the most oppressive policies that exclude them from education and jobs (and they did not even think it’s ok to get violent just because they don’t get college seats). 

A little perspective here. Dravidian parties rose to prominence on the back of a virulent hate filled agenda built around anti-brahminism. That Brahmins and sections of, supposedly, other communities (all collectively labeled Forward Community) held most government posts and constituted the most of educated population was pointed to as gross imbalance. Quota based reservation was championed as “positive discrimination” in favor of hitherto backward communities. In 2008 not a single Brahmin student gained admission in the state Medical colleges. Not a single one. DK, a neo-Nazi type organization, crowed that this was victory. Brahmins and by extension fellow Forward Community were often  portrayed as having gained access to portals of education by currying favors with the British and entrenching a system that used merit as fig leaf to cover casteist aspersions. Today Tamil Nadu has 69% reserved seats. Not just in undergrad. It continues to PG, Jobs and promotions too. The only thing left out of quotas is reserving a plot in the cemetery.  

The Sri Lankan situation was the reverse. Native Lankans saw that Tamils had cornered much of the government jobs and far outnumbered Sinhalese students in colleges. So they decided to do their own ‘positive discrimination’. In fact their reservation quota system was more sympathetic towards Tamils than the system in Tamil Nadu is towards to FC’s. Also their reservation system has been revised and in fact discontinued even while the quota in TN continues unabated where we see children of ministers and doctors claims “backwardness” and enjoy the quota. Disenchanted with being denied life blood, access to education and jobs, the youth became restive and seethed with rage. Added to this was the language policy promoting Sinhala the native language spoken by the majority. Tamil chauvinists saw this as an attempt to relegate them to secondary citizen status. Now every state in India is promoting its own language with almost no toleration for others and especially English. 

In a nutshell take the policies championed by Dravidian parties and paint it Sinhala and there you have it. I used to live with Sinhalese when I came to USA. I had no problems, one of them was the finest human being I had seen. During a chance conversation a girl narrated how Tamils used to dominate Sri Lanka and how Sinhalese were marginalized and how certain policies were put in place to address that imbalance. I could close my eyes and imagine a DK/DMK fascist talk about Brahmins. For every time she said "Tamil" I could easily substitute "Brahmin". She claimed that Tamils, under the cloak of meritocracy only gamed the exams and even gave out the question paper in advance. Now, I've heard this accusation verbatim, hurled at Brahmins by a non brahmin.

Throw in a few more crumbs like Indira Gandhi’s desire to thwart American influence to appease her masters in Kremlin. India uncannily sought to fish in that troubled waters. Indira had a fetish to create Frankensteins. Prabakaran and Bindranwale. She and her son paid a very tragic price for those adventures. A Sri Lankan Tamil friend put it succinctly that Prabakaran was indeed seen as a hero initially, especially in the aftermath of the July ’83 pogroms (which itself was a reaction to Prabakaran’s adventurism in killing 13 Sinhala soldiers). The rest is history and I shall not waste my breath or your patience on rehashing the familiar story.

What is the status today of a people that feel vanquished, under threat and practically clueless. Quite often with sickening regularity Eelam sympathizers talk about how Jews got Israel. Ironically many are strong Palestine sympathizers and practically adore Yasser Arafat (another failed leader like Prabakaran). It is sad to see these misguided and ill-informed, but well meaning, sympathizers even go to the extent of adopting what used to be a Jewish slogan “next year in Jerusalem”. Now we hear “next year in Eelam”. Most do not even know the basic history surrounding the creation of Israel and the odds overcome by giants in leadership. Theodore Herzl, David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Chaim Weizmann etc are sheer giants in pragmatic leadership. An infant nation smaller than Kerala faced the sea to one side and three countries that were armed to the teeth who vowed to push the Jews into the sea. To think that Israel became a nation courtesy the US and US provided assistance is childish at best. 

First the question of Rajapakse. There is clamor to have him declared as war criminal and haul him off to some prison. In real terms this will not happen. Also, if one looked at it coldly, he just prosecuted a war ruthlessly where neither side was a saint when it came to human rights. Actually the Prabakaran worshippers are the worst in this because they turn a willful blind eye to how Prabakaran held his own people as human shields, recruited child soldiers, tortured would-be deserters, harassed families for donating soldiers etc. 

Throughout history this clamor to label somebody, especially the victor of a difficult war, as war criminal has been persistent. Winston Churchill in a very defiant speech in fact promised that he would mete out to the German more than the equal measure of what they inflicted on Britain. The bombing Dresden is still debated as an act of vengeance by the Allied forces. George Bush was sought to be tried for supposed war crimes by millions across the globe. 

Indicting an elected head of state as war criminal is a very arduous task bordering on impossibility. Also the legal requirements are daunting. To indict Rajapakse as war criminal it has to be proved that he issued orders for ethnic cleansing, that he issued orders for bombing known civilian areas with no provocation. Are his hands clean? Certainly not. In a war where neither side respected norms of Geneva conventions its difficult to just indict one side. Hospitals were indeed bombed but hospitals were used by LTTE as launch sites. 

The other question is about the "genocidal war". While the riots of '83 etc would qualify as pogroms, a riot aimed at an ethnic race the war certainly does not qualify for the tag "genocide". I find it objectionable to bring in comparisons with holocaust where a race that was law abiding and never contemplated violence against the state was murdered by the millions. What happened in Sri Lanka was civil war. An aggrieved ethnic community resorted to armed struggle and lost the day. In a war that was prosecuted with no concern for norms by either side its facetious to label it as genocide. Also its pertinent to note that Obama's administration steadfastly refuse to call the ARmenian massacre a "genocide" just because US does not want to infuriate Turkey a key ally in a troubled region. In a world like this calling the Sri Lankan war a genocide is unnecessary complication.

What is really pernicious is the attempt by the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora and especially Tamil NRI's to engender a state of perpetual hostility while safely tucked in the comforts of well paying jobs. Imagine you are a Sinhala in Lanka and if you see the diaspora push countries to institute trade boycott of Sri Lanka made goods, you would naturally think "well the Tamil brethren are trying to starve my country so why should I spend our taxpayer money to pay for any reparations and why should I reconcile, after all I won the war that I did not start".

Rather than work with Sri Lankan government or NGO's on reparations and rehabilitations that require lot of effort its easier to rouse the rabble in front of embassies. More travel between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka should be encouraged. Travel by industry people, ordinary folks, cine artists, human rights organizations and the like.

China, in its race for markets and resources, is establishing foothold everywhere across the globe and human rights is not a concern at all. Well after Tianenman square can the CHinese do that? Whether its Sudan or Sri Lanka human rights is simply not a concern. In a geo politically convoluted world this angle cannot be ignored by India. Also let us bear in mind that Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of state, has categorically stated that in dealing with China, USA is not concerned about human rights (imagine the reaction of left wingers if Donald Rumsfeld under Bush had said that).

A parting word for those who still clamor for Eelam. Despite the sub human condition of Afro-Americans never once did Martin Luther King desire to dismember US. Instead he called upon America to live up to its promise.

A big tragedy for Sri Lankan Tamils is the absolute lack of good leadership that is visionary. The blame for that is to be squarely laid at the feet of Prabakaran who methodically eliminated all moderate leadership in cold blood

For those Prabakaran worshippers out there. Sit and ponder why a guy, who controlled practically 2/3rd of Sri Lanka's coast line and had all the land he pretty much wanted, lost it all and died senselessly. THey also have to answer for the numerous transgressions of Prabakaran, murdering leaders of his own people, expelling thousands of Muslims from Jaffna, child soldiers, forced conscriptions, absolute tyranny etc. Prabakaran was another Yasser Arafat, did not know when to take a compromise and build a better future for his people. But then did he ever desire peace and progress for his people?

Bottom line is that Sri Lankan Tamils have to adjust to reality. At best they can hope for a federal structure. Separate homeland is a dangerous utopia. Also its unfair to Sri Lanka to dissect their homeland.

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