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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2586

The Tiger and the Other Tamils

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Where can these Tamil youths go? The only place left for them is the Indian ocean”.
Moderate Tamil leaders, V Anandasangaree, D Siddarthan and T Sritharan (in a letter to President Rajapakse about the mass arrest Tamils in Colombo)

The Tiger watched our immoderate, irrational reaction to the Nugegoda blast - the mass arrests of Tamils in Colombo on no other evidence than their ethnicity and place of origin. And the Tiger struck again in Kebithigollawa, killing sixteen civilians. Kebithigollawa happened not only because the Tiger is barbaric. Kebithigollawa happened also because, post-Nugegoda, we demonstrated our willingness to harass and antagonise thousands of Tamil civilians in response to any LTTE attack on a Southern target. We showed that we can be provoked into undermining ourselves and our own cause by indulging in racist countermeasures. The Tigers will now persist in their acts of provocation, in the hope of a ‘Big Bang’ reaction from us, a la Black July.

It is a gamble but Vellupillai Pirapaharan never hesitated to play for the highest stakes. That is why he ignored the advice of his own commanders and decided to take on the IPKF. The LTTE is already marginalised internationally because of its terrorism; killing civilians can exacerbate that isolation. But if by attacking Southern targets the regime and a segment of Sinhala society can be incited to penalise all Tamils for the crimes of the LTTE, Mr. Pirapaharan’s gamble will be won.

The negative international publicity we received for last weekend’s anti-Tamil action far exceeds the negative international publicity the LTTE got for its Nugegoda and Devananda blasts. Unfair, perhaps, but hardly incomprehensible. The world has already pronounced the Tigers to be terrorists. Terrorists do commit acts of terror on a regular basis; that, after all, is why they are decried as terrorists. But democratic governments, even under severe pressure, are expected to act with greater moderation and restraint, in consonance with accepted international laws and norms. They are also expected not to impose collective punishments on their own citizens, based on ethnicity or religion. Our reaction to the Nugegoda blast violated this golden rule. This counterproductive countermeasure was sourced in the Rajapakse regime’s belief that most Tamils are Tigers and therefore penalising Tamils for the crimes of the Tigers will deter the Tigers from committing future crimes. The other purpose is to appeal to the ‘gallery’ of Sinhala opinion with a ‘tough guy’ performance.

All Tigers are Tamils; but that does not make all Tamils Tigers.

The Tigers insist that there is no difference between Tamils and Tigers. That is understandable because they want to camouflage their barbarism with the rights and the plight of Tamils. Why we should gift to the Tigers the justification they badly want and need is a question we must ask ourselves. Every time we impose some major or minor collective punishment on Tamils in response to a Tiger crime, we imply that in our eyes any Tamil can be a Tiger. An anti-Tiger war based on such a premise cannot but degenerate into an anti-Tamil war. The last weekend’s insanity is a portent of this coming danger.

Vicious Cycle

Every single Tiger is a Sri Lankan. Even Vellupillai Pirapaharan is a citizen of Sri Lanka. Our task is to face this internal enemy without succumbing to a racist notion of Tamils as the ‘enemy within’. In other words we need to take on the Tigers while resisting the racist belief that every Sri Lankan Tamils is unpatriotic by birth and descent and thus a potential enemy and a traitor. We failed to do so, yet again, last weekend. As the UTHR pointed out in its latest publication “In response to the dastardly bombing in Nugegoda, the State began its usual indiscriminate arrests, treating innocent Tamils as criminals. Those having identity cards from the North or East are told they are not welcome in the South. The attitude of the Police is simple, ‘We have our orders and we don’t want you here’. Indeed, the Tigers again made their point that the North-East is the home land of the Tamils. The State again obliged the Tigers with its predictable myopia. What could one expect with advisors like DIG Kotakadeniya and the Rajapakse brood ruling the country under Jathika Chintanaya packaged as Mahinda Chintanaya?” (Special Report No. 28 – 4.12.2007).

The Tigers need another Black July, even one on a minor note. We can be provoked into committing unfair and unjust excesses. Therefore the Tigers will go on provoking us. Our gut reactions to Tiger atrocities will not prevent Tiger atrocities. On the contrary our gut reactions to Tiger atrocities will encourage the Tigers to commit further atrocities. Nothing would please the LTTE more than to be able to show the Tamils and the international community that the Sri Lankan state is really a Sinhala state. A Sinhala state cannot protect Sri Lanka from bifurcation.

Even from the point of view of security, Sunday’s marathon checking spree did not make sense. The news of such checking gets around fast; only a Tiger who wanted to be caught would have ventured out that day. This kind of checking and the nocturnal intrusions into houses and lodgings – simply because they are inhabited by Tamils - merely serve to harass and antagonise the innocent without apprehending the guilty.

Some of the North Eastern Tamils who come to Colombo would be Tiger operatives, sent here to wreak mayhem. However the absolute majority are innocent civilians seeking to escape a punitive war. These, after all, are citizens of our own country. If they have fled Tiger rule who can blame them? Shouldn’t we encourage such voting with the feet by North-Eastern Tamils? If we harass these Tamils, incarcerate them unjustly and subject them to other kinds of intimidation, will we not be sending them right back to the arms of the waiting Tiger? In so doing will we not concede a major politico-psychological-propaganda victory to the Tigers? After all if the state of Sri Lanka regards every North Eastern Tamil as a potential terrorist, will that not amount to an undermining of the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka?

The dangers of the present ‘any Tamil can be a Tiger’ attitude are manifold. One such outcome was mentioned recently on a Lankan website. Thanjanagar, a Tamil village in Kataragama, was attacked by a group of unknown persons, immediately after the army post at Talgasmankada was attacked by the LTTE. According to LankaeNet this attack was carried out by a gang of Sinhala youths who had lost their livelihood due to the collapse of tourism. “Our investigation team learned that a senior Army official said to Indrasara Thero of Bodhirama Vihara of Thissamaharamaya that Tamil villagers living around Katharagama would be chased away if LTTE attacked again. Indrasara Thero said to 'LankaeNews' that the Tamil villagers in Vallimathagama, Akkarakalgoda, Tanjanagar and in Tissa and Kirinda areas are in danger in the current context” (LeN – 4.12. 2007).

This incident, if accurate, is important because it demonstrates the destructive potential inherent in a fusion of economic distress and racism. The Sinhala youths who supposedly attacked the Tamil village have lost their incomes. At a time even employed persons find it hard to make ends meet, the plight of the unemployed can easily be imagined. The regime is into denial and has no plans or ideas to help communities who have lost their livelihoods due to the collapse in tourist industry. The non-arrival of tourists is caused by the war in general and Tiger activities in particular. If one’s worldview equates Tamils with Tigers, punishing any available Tamil for the crimes of the Tigers would seem ‘just’. This is what happened in Black July. When the Tigers attacked the army camp, the unemployed Sinhala youths got their ‘patriotic excuse’ to inflict their wrath on the innocent Tamils. According to the LeN, a segment of the armed forces in the area permit and encourage such racist attacks. The dangerous potential contained in such a situation can hardly be overstated. These early signs of coming disasters the regime can ignore only at its own peril and at the peril of the entire country.

The Tigers will continue to attack military and non-military targets in the South, whenever possible. We must not overreact to these Tiger barbarities by intimidating, harassing and repressing the Tamils in our midst. The more we turn against Tamils, the more we encourage Tiger atrocities. It is a vicious cycle of which the Tamil people and the Lankan state will be the losers and the Tigers the only winner.

Discrediting Alternatives

For the LTTE the sole representative myth is an article of faith. This myth can become a reality in two ways. The Tiger attempts to kill or drive away anti-Tiger Tamil leaders can succeed. Far more definitively, the anti-Tiger Tamil leaders can discredit themselves through their own actions and inactions. Such a self-defeat would be a much more complete one, as the tragic fate of Col. Karuna demonstrates.

The logic of anti-Tiger Tamil politics can prevail only if the Lankan state and government are demonstrably non-Sinhala supremacist and sincerely committed to a political solution to the ethnic problem, even as they face the Tiger menace militarily. Such is not the case today under the Rajapakse Presidency. The moderate Tamil leaders therefore run the risk of becoming irrelevant. Their priorities and needs, their very politics, can become totally irrelevant to the Tamil masses who fear air raids, artillery attacks and arbitrary arrests and killings by the state just as much as they fear Tiger barbarities. If the regime engages in racist collective punishments, if it is committed to sabotaging a political solution, if its agenda is military victory at any cost to the Tamils followed by a Sinhala peace, moderate Tamil leaders, who are forced by the LTTE’s murderous tactics to depend on the state for survival, run the risk of discrediting themselves and undermining their own stand through inadequate or non-responses to the suffering of the Tamils at the hands of the state. Such self-marginalisation will strengthen the sole representative myth far more completely than even the LTTE’s killing spree can.

The moderate Tamil leaders are in an unenviable situation. The Tigers are intent on killing them. They cannot survive in Sri Lanka without the protection of the state and the patronage of the government. When that state and government are working according to a Sinhala supremacist agenda what can the moderate Tamil leaders do? If they respond too strongly to the atrocious conduct of the regime they may run the risk of antagonising those who protect them from the marauding Tiger. If they do not respond adequately they run the risk of isolating themselves from a majority of Tamil people and many of the dominant Tamil concerns. The Tigers cannot be marginalised politically as long as there is no political solution to the ethnic problem. It is only in the context of a serious attempt to arrive at and implement such a political solution, anti-Tiger Tamil politics can come to its own. As the moderate Tamil leaders V Anandasangaree, D Siddhartan and T Sritharan said in a recent statement ‘Tamils do not want a terrorist leadership’. However that terrorist leadership and its diabolical agenda cannot be defeated so long as the Southern polity persists in swinging from witless appeasement to ‘thoughtless bellicosity’ and “the government’s course is not finding a political solution to the ethnic problem, but literally killing the ethnic problem by crushing the people” (UTHR - Special Report No. 28)

- Asian Tribune -

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