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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2552

Will Ambassador Blake help to bring down the walls of Killinochci?

H. L. D. Mahindapala

Part III

H. L. D. MahindapalaH. L. D. MahindapalaIt is quite apparent that the majority-minority relations would have moved on a more even keel if the northern minority too had dropped their mono-ethnic extremism and decided to co-exist in a multi-cultural society sharing the land in common with all other communities. But in the dying days of the British Empire Jaffna took to Tamil extremism without any provocations from the Sinhala majority. G. G. Ponnambalam, the astute and the aggressive leader of Jaffna Tamils in the last decades of colonialism, launched his extremist “50-50” campaign, demanding 50% share of power for the minorities led by the Jaffna Tamils. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam launched his Tamil State Party (Ilankai Tami Arasu Kachchi -- ITAK) in December 1949, long before S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike had dreams of breaking away from the UNP and embarking on the SLFP ship that carried him into power in 1956.

In short, peninsular politics was whipping up ethnic extremism and hate-Sinhala campaigns long before the Sinhala majority had acquired the political power to initiate any acts of discrimination against the Jaffna Tamils for them to take up the separatist cry. Though in the prevailing political mythology Tamil extremism is attributed to provocative legislation initiated by Bandaranaike (1956) the origins of mono-ethnic politics of Jaffna go way back in time to the twenties, according to Prof. K. M. de Silva who tracked it down to the breakup of the Ceylon National Congress, and to the forties according to Dr. G. C. Mendis who traced it to the divisive politics contained in cries of 50-50 etc.

The accusation that the Sinhala majority ran rough shod over the minorities can be validated essentially in assessing their political deliberations after independence for the simple reason that the colonial masters would not have allowed the majority to exercise their power to destabilize their imperial regime with explosive communal politics. But it was the leading minority in Jaffna that had the field day in raising the stakes of communal politics as documented in the Jane Russell’s well-researched book, Communal Politics Under the Donoughmore Constitution, 1931 – 1947. However, if, as alleged, there was any kind of oppressive majoritarian rule after independence then it can lead only to one main conclusion: the Jaffna Tamils too are guilty of colluding and being a part of the majority conspiracy to oppress them since the elected representatives of Tamils have been an integral part of “the Sinhala-dominated” governments since independence.

The unfolding events in the post-independence era expose the untenability of the allegation of majoritarian rule denying the minority their place in the nation. For instance, would G. G., Ponnambalam, the astute and the aggressive leader of Jaffna Tamils in forties, have joined “the Sinhala-dominated government” if he and the Tamils were treated as second class citizens? Or did he join “the Sinhala-dominated government” because he was given equal opportunity to participate in the decision-making process at the highest Cabinet level and derive benefits for his community? In the formative years of the new nation did he not sit with the Sinhala and Muslim leaders in designing the new national flag in which the Tamils and Muslims were given special places? Did he also not vote with the majority in defining who would be and not be the citizens of the nation? Did not ITAK (the Tamil State Party) of S. J. V. Chelvanayakam join “the Sinhala-dominated government” led by Dudley Senanayake government (1965-70) and declare that it was “the golden years of Tamil-Sinhala cooperation” (Prof. A. J. Wilson) in which “the Tamils got almost everything, if not all what they demanded” (S. M. Rasamanickam, President of ITAK)?

Historians from both sides agree that the ethnic tensions were not prevalent in ancient, medieval and colonial times. These tensions surfaced only after the Jaffna Tamils took to “outrageous demands” (S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike) in the forties, starting with their demand of “50-50” for 12% of the Jaffna Tamils in a nation which consisted of 75% Sinhalese. Though they disguised it as a demand of all minorities (25%), including the Muslims and Indian Tamils, it was a cry initiated and launched exclusively by the Jaffna Tamils who were hoping ride into power on the backs of other minorities.

The issue of discrimination too was raised by G. G. Ponnambalam when he went before the Soulbury Commission and complained about it in his nine-hour marathon speech. After listening to him the Commissioners dismissed it as stuff and nonsense. Mark you, this issue of discrimination (meaning retaining and increasing their disproportionate share of jobs in the public service because government service was the only growth industry under colonial times) was raised long before Sinhala-only became the official language in 1956. Ponnambalam raised his “50-50” cry it in 1946 under British colonial rule. However, as signified in the demand of 50% of power by a minority of 12%, it is clear that their hidden agenda was to grab a share of political power that was quite disproportionate to their size and to any other legitimate claims that could have fostered communal harmony and peaceful co-existence.

Besides, this cry of “50-50” would never have been considered as a feasible or acceptable proposition in any political culture which (1) consisted of 75% of the population and (2) more than that, a majority that had maintained healthy relations with all minorities down the ages without any communal tensions. This was minoritarianism raising its irrational and arrogant head to absurd levels. This extremist claim of 12% demanding 50% of power was bound to derail the ethnic harmony that prevailed in the ancient, feudal and colonial periods. It was this ethnic ideological framework that laid the foundation for the subsequent political extremism of the northern peninsula.

Their obsession for power was essentially a calculated maneuver of the vellahla caste to keep the northern peninsula as a compartmentalized, water-tight vellahla zone within the neck of Jaffna. They were content to work and live as subservient subalterns to colonial captains which gave them the illusion of sharing power with the masters of the day, having ready access to their ear. This was a peculiar political phenomenon confined to the ruling vellahla elite in the peninsula. It was also a means of retaining their feudal and colonial privileges together with casteist supremacy, sanctified by the Hindu hierarchical codes. When it came to caste issues they had the tendency to close rank and act as one team because a loss in any one given point would resonate right down the hierarchical structure.

The vellahlas were quite content with the colonial masters because they were neither intrusive nor willing to overthrow their grip on the peninsula, their most cherished, exclusive casteist haven. But (1) the universal franchise (1931) which empowered the low-castes with a new political status, (2) the cash economy insidiously breaking up the casteist shackles that dehumanized them in the Hindu hierarchical system, (3) the democratization of the political system that introduced new values of equality and political consciousness opposed to casteism, and (4) the steady decline of the British Empire and the colonial patronage that went with it favouring and protecting the upper-caste, were emerging forces that threatened the commanding position of vellahlas within Jaffna and the disproportionate share of power in the British administration throughout the island. Sir. Ponnambalam Ramanathan, an acolyte of Arumuka Navalar, the patron saint of vellahla caste, opposed the universal franchise tooth and nail because it meant the loss of power of vellahlas over the low-castes. It meant increasing the political power of the low-castes and liberalizing Jaffna society by equalizing the low-castes with the upper-caste on the one-man-one-vote principle. It meant that the high-castes would have to go down to the low-castes, who were armed with votes, to get their consent for the vellahla to retain power– a socially despised act never tolerated in the Hindu ideology.

All these new political forces were unsettling the vellahlas. These forces made it obvious to the vellahlas that their fortress in Jaffna was standing like Bastille on the eve of the French Revolution. Even if the low-castes were not ready to storm their fortress the process of democratization and de-colonisation, which would decisively empower the Sinhala majority, was ringing in their ears like the death knell. The Marxists on the one hand and the Sinhala-Buddhists, on the other, generated a political momentum that was intruding into their sacred domain, threatening to cut them down to size. Their instinctive and conscious political reaction was to turn their political guns to the south.

Consequently, when the sun began to set over the British Empire, peninsular politics took a turn for the worse, focusing exclusively on demonizing the Sinhalese. All their problems were attributed to the Sinhala majority denying them their rights, meaning the rights of the 52% of the vellahlas – the rights reinforced by feudalism, colonialism and Hinduism. The political fears they expressed were the fears of the vellahlas and not that of the peoples of Jaffna.

In colonial times the Sinhala majority did not pose a threat to their dominance inside and outside Jaffna. The main political thrust of the vellahlas in colonial times was to keep the low-castes under their heels. They were comforted by the dominant sway they held in the political and administrative structures of colonial times, warding off the low-castes who were knocking on their gates, asking them to open their temples, schools, buses etc for them to live in dignity as equal citizens. It was only when the colonial masters were about the quit Sri Lanka the vellahlas realized that their next move to protect their feudal fortress and the privileges within the peninsula was to confront the Sinhalese who were bound to take over the reins of power from the British. This explains why the Jaffna Tamils in the thirties and forties turned against the Sinhalese increasingly and stridently without, of course, letting the embarrassing and unwanted low-castes get out of hand.

The Sinhala leadership reacted with a meaningful gesture. When Ponnambalam was demanding 50-50 the Sinhala leadership went out its way to offer 46%. But the Tamil leadership rejected it, making its first colossal blunder. Their mono-ethnic intransigence insisted on 50-50 or nothing. Their extremism and intransigence had its impact on the south: it led to the hastening of the counter-revolution in the south which woke up the sleeping giants. Initially the Sinhala-Buddhist developed as an anti-imperialist movement from the 19th century. It gathered a new momentum and turned in a new direction to assert its identity under the mono-ethnic pressures of northern Tamils -- the only minority that refused to co-exist peacefully with them.

However, even at the height of the new wave of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism which peaked in 1956 the southern forces were willing to accommodate the linguistic, cultural and religious rights of the Tamils. But the Tamil leadership, with its “little now and more later” strategies, was ready to grab any issue that would further its mono-ethnic extremism in the peninsula. They were like the child, who had made up its mind to cry, waiting to be poked in the eye. Any excuse was good enough for them to cry foul. The reality, however, is that though nominally Sinhala-only was the declared the official language English continued to be the language that ruled the nation in key areas of the judiciary, administration, legislature and business. Even today it is the English-educated elite from all communities that rule the roost in Sri Lanka and this opened the space for the Tamils to compete and succeed in “the Sinhala-dominated governments”.

Because of these and other hard realities the Tamils who cry discrimination find it difficult to point to an act that can justify with reasonable arguments their cry of discrimination. For instance, their cry of being denied admission to university on merit is negated by the fact that it was based on the Rawlsian principles of giving advantages to the disadvantaged. The principle on which the disadvantaged Afro-Americans were given preference, even if they scored low marks, was called “reverse discrimination” or “affirmative action”. In Sri Lank it is called “discrimination”. The Muslim Minister of Education, Badi-ud-din Mahamud introduced standardization of marks to give advantages to the Muslims and the other communities living in less developed areas isolated from the advanced urban centres like Colombo and Jaffna. Rsidents of Colombo to were affected as those of Jaffna. The mass migration of Sinhalese, mainly in the professional class, began after this because they feared that their children would not get a place in he universities. Nevertheless, it is touted as an act of discrimination targeting only the Jaffna Tamils.

Despite this, the Tamils haven’t fared badly. A good test is to ask the Tamil occupying key positions in Western capitals how they reached their professional heights if they were denied equal opportunities to progress. They preferred to wallow in their own myths of victimology rather than acknowledge that they were beneficiaries of a welfare state that gave them equal opportunities through a free education system that carried them through, from the kindergartens to the universities. They refuse to acknowledge this reality because it would deny them the political benefits of posing as victims of a Sinhala-dominated state that discriminated against them. To maintain this myth they cranked up their propaganda machinery to demonize S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. Politically they went all out to confront Bandaranaike and make him, one of the greatest Sinhala liberals, the bogeyman. They were joined by the Westernised Sinhala elite who resisted the rise of the grass-root forces which were alien to them. Making Sinhala the official language was a threat to the English-speaking elite holding key positions in various professions. They too were ready to align themselves with the Tamil professionals who had a vested interest in preserving English as the chrematistic language.

Bandaranaike was anathema to the Westernized Sinhala and the ethno-centric Tamil professionals. But the vellahla elite in particular who dominated public and professional positions had a grouse of their own. They resented him because his policies were undermining the fundamental bases of their hierarchical society. Bandaranaike dealt a severe blow to vellahla ancien regime by passing the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act of 1959. The Sinhala Only Act affected the elite of all communities. But the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act hit the vellahlas directly and exclusively. The antagonism to the Sinhala Only Act was a popular cry among the English-speakiing elites of all communities who were generally united in opposing Bandaranaike. Chelvanayakam exploited this resentment to the hilt. Though he was “tip-toeing out of the caste issue” (Prof. Bryan Pfaffenberger) he went pell-mell on the language issue. He went from kachcheri (provincial centres of government administration) to kachcheri urging the Tamil public servants not to learn Sinhala. It was the most opportunistic issue that came his way to rouse anti-Sinhala racism.

It is, of course, mandatory for public servants of any country to learn the language of the public. The Tamils had to learn Sinhala just as much as the Sinhalese had to learn Tamil if they were to serve the needs of the public. The alternative would have been for the public to learn the language of the public servants. Enthroning the language/s of the people was the primary means of democratizing the colonial administration. But the English-speaking elites vilified it as a provocative act designed to divide the nation. The Marxists too joined the bandwagon. Dr. Colvin R. de Silva summarized it when he reduced the issue to a pithy political slogan: “Two languages one nation; one language two nations.” However, when they took up ministerial portfolios in Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s government they accepted that English was the language of the ruling class. Then they flipped and argued that the working class had the right to overthrow the language of the ruling class and use their mother tongue.

The Marxists gave it a class/economic interpretation. Tamil extremists interpreted it by giving it an ethnic twist, despite Tamil also being enthroned as an official language. Chelvanayakam’s anti-Sinhala campaign eventually affected the Tamil public servants. His advice not to learn Sinhala resulted in Tamil public servants failing in their examinations. Gaining competence in the language of the public was a requirement to get promotions and increments. When they failed due to their own political motivations they cried discrimination. Chelvanayakam was there to exploit their frustrations for his political gain. But in fairness to Bandaranaike it must be stated that he gave the options for the Tamil, Sinhala and Burgher public servants to retire with full pension if they did not want to work in the languages of the public. It was Bandaranaike who provided facilities for public servants to learn both languages – the Tamils to learn Sinhalese and Sinhalese to learn Tamil – if they wanted to continue in service. Bandaranaike did nothing wrong. It was the right of the public to be served in the language of the public. The Sinhalese had a right to be served in Sinhalese and if the Tamil public servants refused to comply then they were given the option of retiring on a full pension. How much fairer could “the Sinhala-dominated” state be to the Tamils?

Not surprisingly, the English-speaking elite in Sinhala, Muslim and Burgher communities too ganged up to retain the colonial practice of running the administration in English – a language known to only 06 % of the population. Today, if a Tamil does not receive a reply in Tamil a hue and cry is raised to condemn it as an act of discrimination. But to date hardly anyone argues that it was discriminatory and unfair by the Sinhalese (75%) to be denied their right to communicate with the state in their preferred language. It was labeled as “majoritarianism” because the elitist minority suddenly found that their power and their hip-pocket nerve would be hit hard. The Tamils never stopped demonizing Bandaranaike for giving the Sinhala people their historical right to conduct their affairs in their mother tongue. Predictably, they wanted minoritarianism to triumph over the majority. Retaining privileges of the minority, at the expense of the other communities, was their idea of democracy, fairness and justice.

They continued their massive campaign against making Sinhala the official language ignoring the fact that their language was also given its rightful place. This also appealed to the Westernised Sinhala elite who vilified Bandaranaike. Even his Westernised children, who climbed to the highest positions of power and prestige by standing on his coffin, haven’t had either the gratitude or the guts to defend their father who liberated the Sinhala people from the shackles of colonialism. They would have been zeros if not for their father’s commitment to serve the grass root forces. His children invoke his memories to remind the public that they are the heirs to the Bandaranaike legacy. But once they get the votes they dance on their father’s grave, embracing the opposite of what he represented. The founder of the SLFP, if he was living today, would be happy to embrace Mahinda Rajapakse rather than his two alienated ingrates.

A part of the gargantuan myth that blames the Sinhalese is contained in the political platform of the Tamil separatists who repeat ad nauseam, the accusation of being under a “Sinhala-dominated government”, implying that it is not representative of other communities. Their distorted propaganda is understandable. What is un-understandable is how Ambassador Blake came to swallow this line. Besides, if he applies the same argument to any Western democracy can he honestly say that they are anything but white-Christian-dominated governments, without sharing power with the minorities? On the basis of this, shouldn’t Ambassador Blake undertake a round the world trip visiting the capitals of all the democracies “dominated by majorities” saying that they are not representative of the minorities before he tells that to the Sri Lankan government?

If the Sinhalese (75%), acting on basic principles of democratic tolerance, had governed on accepted norms of majority rule without segregating the minorities, without downgrading them to second class citizenship like the Afro-Americans in USA, without treating them like slaves, without genocidal extermination of the indigenous minorities, making the few remaining tribal descendants homeless in their own homeland, without grabbing their land at the point of a gun, without treating the helpless minorities as guinea pigs for medical experiments (examples: German doctors on Jews and American doctors on Afro-Americans in Tuskegee, Alabama), without Belsen and Auschwitz concentration camps to dehumanize stigmatized minorities, without using weapons of mass destruction to bomb the enemies into submission in Dresden, Nagasaki, without napalming men, women and children in Vietnam for dissenting with their politics, without subverting democracy and rule of law by forcibly enthroning fascist and unelected leaders like Gen. Pinochet, without imposing embargoes on food and other essential items that led to the deaths of 500,000 children in Iraq (UNCEF figures), without leaving an abominable trail of human rights violations in every continent, not to mention the islands on the globe etc., etc., on what moral basis can the Western diplomats point their fingers at “the southern Sinhalese” and walk with their noses up in the air?

With all their aberrations, which were corrected as they went along, “the southern Sinhalese” had an inclusive culture representative of all communities. It was the northern Tamils who were determined to run an ethnic enclave excluding other communities. The Jaffna Tamils were bent on building political, social and ethnic walls – mostly with cadjans -- to keep the “asangha” (aliens/outsiders) out. The Jaffna Tamils were very much like the English-speaking societies run by the domineering WASPish elite. The peninsular vellahlas ran the most inhuman casteist culture that from feudal times consistently enforced segregation, denied of fundamental rights, engaged in slavery of the worst kind etc. Nothing has changed under Prabhakaran. In fact it has got worse with him running concentration camps, ethnic cleansing, and blatantly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Clearly, Ambassador Blake’s statement that “the southern Sinhalese” are not inclusive or representative cannot be sustained by the realities on record. He can, of course, argue on the perceptions of the Tamil propagandists. But then perceptions are as deceptive as propaganda. The task of diplomats is to separate the chaff of perceptions from the grains of realities.

Bear in mind that historically the political platform for the current crisis was engineered exclusively by the northern Tamil elite – the most privileged political class -- in the thirties and forties to push for a disproportionate share of power in an equally disproportionate mass of land. It began with the Jaffna Tamil (12%) demanding 50-50 which then escalated into federalism in 1949 – long before S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike swept into power in 1956 – and then finally morphed into separatism. It is not that separatism was not in their agenda when Illankai Thamil Arasu Kachci (the Tamil State Party) was launched in 1949 disguised as the Federal Party. Separatism was in their agenda even before they started blaming Bandaranaike for their extremism. They were masters in disguising their political goals and tactics under various fashionable theories and slogans. Initially they posed as the non-violent Gandhians. The Jaffna Tamils are the only known Gandhians who distributed wooden pistols at their satyagraha sit-ins! Now they are campaigning for the Tamil Tigers, the most brutal perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity, on high principles of human rights. In the thirties and forties human rights was not a fashionable political weapon. Then Gandhism was the in thing. Now they have replaced Gandhism with human rights not because they are committed to human rights per se but because it is the most marketable political tool to white-wash their inhuman politics that has brutalized the Tamils and blackened their image in the eyes of the civilized world.

The obsession for a mono-ethnic enclave to retain their colonial and feudal privileges and the political power to go with it was the outstanding characteristic of peninsular politics dominated by the vellahla elite. Equally characteristic was the willingness of all the other communities to co-exist in harmony, whilst negotiating peacefully for their rights.

In the fifties, Sri Lanka, like all other ex-colonies, was sloughing the old skins of the colonial past and re-defining its national identity. As in all other ex-colonies it was going through a period of adjustment in which historical imbalances were being addressed to restore the lost rights taken away by the colonial masters. The Founding Fathers of the nation put together a coalition of all minorities and placed the nation on multi-cultural, democratic and liberal path.

But in the peninsula, hidden behind cadjan walls, menacing mono-ethnic extremism was raising its ugly head. Jaffna never embraced liberalism, multi-culturalism, socialism, or any other democratic and tolerant ideology that could have paved the path for peaceful co-existence. Having consolidated their feudal casteist grip on Jaffna during Portuguese and Dutch occupations, and having reinforced their acquired advantages under British colonial patronage, with, for instance, 12% Jaffna Tamils occupying 36% of the British administrative posts in public service, the peninsular political elite developed an ethnic complex of being superior to all other communities, including the eastern Tamils and, more so, over the Indian Tamils who were relegated to the lowest level of coolies.

Besides, with S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the father of Tamil separatism, declaring “little now and more later” there was no room for co-existence. The political myth is that it was the abrogation of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact, or the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam pact that pushed the Tamils into extremism. The reality is that Chelvanayakam had established the Tamil State Party in 1949 with the sole objective of pushing for “little now and more later” like the camel in the Arab’s tent, irrespective of the compromises offered by the Sinhala majority.

They were not going to be satisfied with compromises. A good example is the rejection of the offer of 46% when they demanded 50-50 in the forties. The Tamils even tore up the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement and the Oslo Ceasefire Agreement which gave them more with international guarantees. The tendency of Jaffna Tamils to commit political suicide is only comparable to the naïve and misguided suicide bombers who are treated to their last supper by Prabhakaran -- the Grim Reaper of Tamils.

Their divisive, intransigent and extremist politics contained within it the seeds of self-destructive and suicidal tendencies. Their incremental strategy of moving to grab power for an exclusive mono-ethnic enclave carried with it the potential for violence. Violence and separatism are inseparable. From this came the Vaddukoddai Resolution of 1976 – the Resolution that declared war on the Sinhalese. It is the logical and the ultimate expression of mono-ethnic extremism. Though there have been sporadic communal clashes during the British period no community has openly and aggressively declared war on the other communities as the Tamils of the north. The Tamil political class is now reaping what they sowed in the bellicose Vaddukoddai Resolution.
Ambassador Blake, like most of those who writes recipes for peace, falls into the category of the notorious Sri Lankan medical specialists who write prescriptions as the patients come through the doors of their clinics, without taking into consideration the specific details of the ailments. These Western diplomats are in a free fall, hurtling down a credibility gap created by the failure to grasp the imperatives of the mono-ethnic extremism that drives northern politics. To reclaim their credibility and to regain their objectivity in understanding the current and cross-currents of Sri Lankan politics they will have to revise their premises based essentially on propaganda and not on the hard realities that over-determine Sri Lankan violence and politics.

The ubiquitous cadjan walls planted round each house in Jaffna to keep the “asangha” (the untouchable aliens) out is representative of its culture. The openness, the inclusiveness and the liberality that prevails beneath the neck of Jaffna are symbolic of the southern culture. Whatever the defects of the southern culture may be – and there are myriads – they cannot be accused of not being inclusive of other cultures. The “southern Sinhala” culture can proudly stand up to any Western liberal society and say that they have been as good, if not superior, in sharing this land fairly with the minorities. It has embraced and hosted everything from Trotskyism, Stalinism, Titoism, Maoism, Castroism, liberalism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam….you name it. Jaffna culture is notorious for embracing only extreme racism for which they are paying now.

For example, P. Saravanamuttu, the NGO pundit crying into his beer in the cocktail circuit, has the freedom and the right to speak up for his beliefs, most of which are mistaken, in the “southern Sinhala culture”. But what place has he in the Tamil culture run by “the sole representative of the Tamils”? Saravanamuttu has the right to go to courts in the southern Sinhala jurisdiction but what chance has he of taking up a single case of child abduction in Prabhakaran’s kangaroo court in the north? V. Anandasangaree, the TULF president, says that he had the right to protest when Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike went to open the Jaffna University but now he can’t even step into Jaffna now. If Ambassador Blake has ears to listen why hasn’t he heard these voices of the Tamils who are waiting for the day when their society will return to tolerance, inclusiveness, liberalism and above all protection of Tamils who have the right to dissent?

Also if he has eyes to see he would have noticed that it is the walls of Jaffna – even though they are made of coconut fronds – that are rigidly and intransigently obstructing communal harmony. No one expects him to bring them down like the walls of Jericho. But as a diplomat he may agree that one of his primary missions is to bring down walls wherever they may be. As a missionary of globalization he would know that one of his tasks is to bring down economic walls. He has also lived through the phase when political walls (Berlin Wall) came crashing down. He is also witnessing attempts to bring down the walls that divide north and south Koreas. To make Sri Lanka more representative his mission is to bring down the tight, compartmentalized walls of Jaffna.

And talking about walls, he might recollect the lines of Robert Frost, his compatriot, who argued against walls that come between people:

"Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That wants it down.”

Of course, Frost’s last line says:

“Good fences make good neighbours.”

That is not because Frost endorsed walls. No. He wrote that to confirm the folly of those who fail to understand that there is something that doesn’t love divisive walls. Who wants to be on this side or that side of the walls when there is much to be gained in the wide and free spaces, when vistas of new realms open up, when “the narrow domestic walls” (Rabindranath Tagore) are brought down and the people are liberated to walk the earth sharing it in common as trustees, bearing the sacred duty to protect every precious being in it?

Finally, how can “the southern Sinhalese” make the polity representative of all communities when those held behind fascist walls are not allowed to come out and join the rest of civilized humanity? How can you shake hands with those holding a grenade in one hand and a kalashnikov in the other? So isn’t the first duty of Ambassador Blake to bring down the walls of Killinochchi if he wants to make Sri Lanka an inclusive society?

Perhaps, Ambassador Blake might prefer Bob Dylan to Robert Frost and let the issue rest in the popular but inconclusive lines of the lyric:

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky

How many years must one man have

Before he can hear people cry

How many deaths will it take till he knows

That too many people have died

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

The answer is blowing in the wind.

- Concluded -

- Asian Tribune –

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