Washington Post: “Sri Lanka’s Squandered Opportunities”- A Response.
I am a Sri Lankan and a Tamil. My family is from Jaffna located in the Northern part of Sri Lanka. I have carefully read your article “Sri Lanka’s Squandered Opportunities”, and was thoroughly disappointed by its one sided twisting of factual information. I am disappointed how the West keeps using my people as a means to their own political ends. We Tamils in Sri Lanka have not provided any mandate to anyone to speak or write or advocate on our behalf. 27 years of terrorist brutality ended in May of 2009, bringing peace and tranquility to Sri Lanka and all its people.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) were not the champions of my People; they were the very cancer of our community. All the benefits we had as citizens of Sri Lanka (health care, education, and vocations) were taken away by the LTTE. They robbed us of our homes and our livelihoods, and we started to believe that leading a normal life was but a dream. They took away our children, brothers, and sisters against their will to join their armed struggle. Those who didn't comply suffered severely. Our once budding agricultural economy in the North was turned in to a waste land of blood and tears.
The years of oppression of the Sinhalese by the British caused a resentment fed rift in the social fabric of Sri Lanka. However, the introduction of democracy in 1948 turned things around. It gave the Sinhalese a voice which they used it to realign the equation. However what pushed the envelope for the Tamil community was the 1956 Sinhala Only Act. This act replaced English as the official language.
It was on this wave of Tamil nationalism that LTTE sprung in to being. By this time, slowly but methodically, the government of Sri Lanka was attempting to meet the grievances of the Tamil people. The first step was the 1958 Government enacted the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act No: 28 of 1958. This provided modified reasonable use of Tamil provisions regarding education, public service entrance examinations and administration in the Northern and Eastern provinces.
Today however, government employees can be recruited in any of the three languages (English, Tamil, Sinhala) anywhere in the country. If such a notion was raised in United States there would be resistance by the public and the Congress, even though the Hispanic population in the US is much larger (16.7%) than the Tamil population (11.21%) in Sri Lanka.
The majority of the Tamil people were satisfied with the changes made. It was made evident when the Tamil electorate voted overwhelmingly in the 1960 elections for the same leaders who had agreed to the compromise. If the LTTE were truly champions of the Tamil people they would have welcomed the opportunities to work with the government of Sri Lanka to address the issues faced by its people. Instead, they continued their assault against Sinhala and Muslim communities in Sri Lanka as well as moderate Tamils who refused to fall in line with their agenda. Adolf Hitler like charismatic LTTE leader Prabhakaran became deranged by a lust for power and wealth. The war in the name of “Tamil Nationalism” became a profitable industry to him, as the organization’s annual income grew to $300 million.
Sri Lanka should be given due respect and credit for obtaining victory over such a corrupt and violent terrorist group. Thousands of civilians were killed in terrorist violence and the opportunity cost to the country was estimated at over $ 200 billion. Over the Years 65,000 - 100,000 people were killed in the conflict (Frontline: The LTTE and suicide terrorism, Volume 17, Issue 03, Feb. 05 - 08, 2000), and over 21, 000 children lost their childhood as they were recruited as child combatants by the LTTE (Human Rights Watch). I am not totally enthusiastic of all the actions of the current government, but thus far they have not repealed constitutional provisions granting local rights, but in fact increased them over the last three years. Many comments have been made on the impeachment of the Chief Justice. The constitutional provisions for impeachment were strictly adhered. Sri Lanka is not the first or the only country to impeach its senior officials. As a Tamil, let me say that we are infinitely better off now than under the LTTE. My people are finally free citizens. They can live everywhere in the country and pursue their dreams.
The scars of 27 years of violence and destruction will not disappear in 3 years. However, the Sri Lanka has taken positive strides. The deputy opposition leader of the Australian Parliament Julie Bishop along with parliamentarians Scott Morrison and Michael Keenan affirmed exactly this during their recent visit. The successive governments of Sri Lanka have continuously prioritized the need to care for the civilian population throughout the island. Even during the height of the conflict they set the tone for the post conflict reconciliation by ensuring a continuous supply of essential goods and services to the Tamil civilians in areas under the LTTE. For over twenty seven years, despite all the economic and logistical difficulties, Sri Lanka sent food and medical supplies to the North and the East. All the schools, hospitals and clinics in LTTE controlled areas were funded and staffed by the Government in Colombo. In addition to the various NGOs, and the bilateral aid donors operating in LTTE controlled territory, the ICRC had access to the LTTE’s final beachhead almost till the very end of the conflict.
Today my relatives enjoy a comfortable life with a home to their name, a stable economy, markets filled with fresh vegetables, fish and meat, ability to freely travel and live anywhere in the country, universal health care and education for their children, and most importantly the opportunity to follow a career of their choosing. This may not seem much to you or me, but it is to someone who has suffered three decades under the LTTE.
Therefore even though some of the policies of the current government may not all be in line with idealistic democracy, they are certainly taking steps in the right direction. The people of Sri Lanka are enjoying a greater freedom and democracy today than they did in 2009. If one took an unbiased look at the bigger picture, it may seem that the country has come a long way and is taking the correct measures to ensure ever lasting peace and prosperity for all its people. The progress of they reconstruction process would be much effective if the West gave up their hidden political agenda and truly came together to build a hopeful Sri Lanka. Hence, I urge the international community to help Sri Lanka reach its full potential, leaving its ugly past behind.
- Asian Tribune -