Politics & Economy

State terrorism and resistance: The genocidal occupation of the Tamil homeland

Three years have passed since the genocidal killings in Mulli'Vaykal in the North-East of Sri Lanka (Eezham). The Colombo government inhumanely portrays the conclusion of the Tamil Genocide on 19th May as Victory Day. Amidst Colombo’s euphoric, romantic and triumphal portrayals of the post-war period, the conditions of the Tamils are appalling and testify to their existence as a shackled and besieged nation.

While Colombo celebrated the 3rd anniversary of the V-day, the stateless Tamils continue to face multifaceted oppression indicating the government’s commitment to continue the protracted genocide.  Though the material base, distorted and manipulated to suit Colombo's most favored rhetorical tool "The Tamil Terrorist" is non-existent, the state violence pulsates on. It was thought the state could no longer utilize its much cherished term the fight against terrorism as a cloak to exert blatant genocidal violence against Tamils and brutal suppression of dissent. Contrarily the state violence remains in the post war scenario and displays the structural and systematic nature of it. The state sanctioned and manned violence is in fact inalienable from the functioning of the unitary nation state and is legitimized by the dominant Sinhala nationalism. The state centric discourses present the workings of Colombo as developmental in the North-East and that the situation of Tamils is progressively improving. Hence it is sung that with the ‘Northern Spring’ campaign, this oppressively centralized and unitary country is moving towards reconciliation, prosperity and peace.

The reality for Tamils is quite different as not even the shadows of equality, peace and security fall upon their homeland and so the political, socio-cultural and economic situation of the Tamils deteriorates drastically. Self determination is nonviable and as a nation their existence is under rapid erosion and faces annihilation or total subjugation. The prevalent situation was recently illuminated in a Washington post report (1), and in internal reports produced by diplomats in the Norwegian embassy (2).

In both it is pointed out that the entire Tamil homeland is under heavy military governance and that every aspect of civilian life including the local economy is dictated. During fieldwork conduction in the North-East in early 2012 to assess the situation of Tamils, the Norwegian diplomats also noted the constant following presence of the military, even during meetings with the locals.

Undoubtedly in the Tamil homeland a military occupation with genocidal intent is bent on marginalizing and conditioning the Tamils’ capacity to lead their lives with dignity, to govern and independently empower themselves. Such a regime also prevents any form of just devolution of governance and the restoration of justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity. An environment which facilitates Tamils to express grievances, injustice, atrocities and their political demands is by no means available. It seems to be the intent of the state to eradicate the capacities of Tamils to reproduce their national consciousness, identities, socio-cultural characteristics and intricate connections to the traditional homeland. With the erosion of these elements, Colombo can without many obstacles assimilate the Tamils into its chauvinistic nation building project, a united and centralized Buddhist Sinhala Sri Lanka with dependent minorities. President Mahindra Rajapakse even said once that "there are no minorities in Sri Lanka, only Sri Lankans", and such understandings stem from and illuminate the mono-ethnic nature of the nation state and its ideology. An ideology falsely propagating the notion that Tamil-speakers are results of numerous migrations and invasions. They are then understood as immigrants and second grade citizens in contrast to the Sinhala who are the ‘sons of the soil’. Thus is the sectarian conceptual base formed to understand the island’s national question. Accordingly it is understood that non-Sinhala nations within the state are neither entitled to independently assert themselves nor to mobilize politically on such grounds.

Alarmingly the genocidal intent of the Sri Lankan state is increasingly becoming more impudent and manifest. The President capitalized the V-day speech to rebuke Hillary Clinton’s statement from 18th May urging Colombo to demilitarize the North and East (3). Recently The Sri Lankan Army Chief, Lt. General Jagath Jayasuriya reassured the world that it is he alone who decides the military affairs of the island and that “Where the army camps are deployed is my problem, not anybody else’s.(4). Militarization and the ongoing colonization and occupation in the Tamil homeland are out rightly legitimized by the foremost authorities of the State.

Proliferation of Organized Resistance

Amidst the environment deterring any form of dissent against the government and in particular that which voices the coordinated state violence unleashed in the Tamil homeland, Tamil activists, political leaders and civilians have courageously started to mobilize protests of a coordinated nature. At the 14th National Convention of Ilangai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), TNA leader Sampanthan reaffirmed the principle of the North-East as the Tamil historical homeland. This quickly reached the ears of the government and on 8th June Champika Ranawaka the leader of Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and also the Minister of Power and Energy disturbingly threatens Tamils from mobilizing resistance against the state:

“One MulliVaykal is enough, don’t try to get 100 more…Does Sambanthan want to create 100 more MulliVaykals? We are ready to forgive and forget the past and think about the future…But if, Sambanthan is calling us to fight, our nation would proudly accept the challenge..”(5).

Evident without a shred of ambiguity through such a statement is that on the island are two distinct nations. “Our nation” as Champika implies is the Sinhala nation which the state represents, contrasted with the Tamil nation which mobilizes and coordinates a political resistance and platform under the Tamil political parties. Despite the atmosphere of determent and threats of genocide, on 18th June a large demonstration was planned to be held before a busstand in Jaffna town. It was called on by the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF), supported by Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Democratic People’s Front (DPF) and the Jaffna University Student Union (JUSU) (6). Hundreds of participants congregated resulting in last minute intervention by the Sri Lankan Police declaring it illegal, citing that destructive elements were about to use the protest as a pretext to cause disorder. It was claimed they had legal permission to cancel the protest from the District Judge of Jaffna as they had submitted their own report to him. The organizers then called off the planned demonstrations. This incident was of immense importance as it was the first large scale protest in the post war scenario against the systematic violence of state.

On 19th June in Thellipazhai, Jaffna, the protest campaign was continued upon and was successfully organized against the land grabbing done by the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) inside the High Security Zone; the protestors demanded the immediate resettlement of the uprooted families of Valikamam North (7). Police commandos were deployed to block the protest and their vehicles were strategically placed to ensure this. On their way to hand over the petition to the Divisional Secretariat the police blocked them and after verbal confrontation between the demonstrators and the police, a five member team was allowed to hand it over. The protest was organized by the TNA, and supported by TNPF, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), and DPF and their respective leaders, Kajendra, Sivajilingam,and Mano Ganesan. The Nava Samaj Samaja Pakshaya (NSSP) from the south was also invited who sent a delegation to participate.

On 26th June at Thirumu’rika’ndi in Vanni, TNA, TNPF, DPF organized a protest against the systematic land grab executed by the state and military in the Tamil homeland. It was supported by united Socialist Party (USP) led by Sritunga Jayasuriya and by activists belonging to the NSSP (8). This was by then the largest, most integrated and courageous display of resistance. Suresh Premechandran of the TNA alluded to how Colombo was employing the Israeli model and is indulging in the Gazafication of the Tamil Homeland. The nature of this protest was also integrative as they interlinked the demands for demilitarization, return of land to locals and the Tamil right to self determination. There was also demand for political prisoners and prisoners of war to be released. Though hundreds of SLA and police were deployed, the protestors stood ground defying their intimidating presence.

Selective killings as response to resistance

On 28th June, Sri Lankan media reported that a large scale prison uprising was unfolding in Vauvuniya prison in the North and that it was orchestrated by LTTE operatives abroad through mobile communication with ‘LTTE’ captives in the prison. BBC’s Charles Havilland reproduced the Colombo narration added with elements of the renowned BBC neutrality calling it a failed prison mutiny (9). The prison became the locus for the largest military operation and state media cover up since the war’s end. It was falsely presented as a hostage situation with 3 jailors being held and pointed out as a threat to national security. The truth emerged later with protests and scrutiny from nongovernment centric media. The illegal transfer of 3 Tamil political prisoners to Boosa jail (notorious for violent atrocities against Tamils) sparked a hunger protest by 31 remaining inmates, who demanded the return fearing for their comrades’ lives.  Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and Special Task Force (STF) violently suppressed the protest and the 31 protestors were arrested and forcefully removed.

On 4th July the body of one of the prisoners appeared in Ragama hospital in the Sinhala South. According to the Govt. the inmate died of heart attack while in hospital, while hospital authorities have told journalists that they were handed over a dead body on the 3rd by prison authorities. The murdered inmate, Ganeshan Nimalaruban was 28 years old and had been illegally imprisoned for the past 7 months. In a display of biased judiciary, Colombo High Court detained his remains, prohibiting them from being handed over to his parents. The inhuman act was legitimized as necessary to prevent public disorder in Vauvuniya and erstwhile in the Tamil homeland. Suresh Premachandran, Tamil political parties and civic groups protest in the North (10). Information ensuing revealed that Nimalaruban was the key organizer of the protest in a desperate attempt to bring attention to their ordeal, amidst knowing that a protest inside a prison would be dealt with violence. When brought to attention of the defense minister Gotabaya Rajapakse orders were given for Nimalarubans murder; “Kill these fellows within the prison itself, let others also be attacked until they get fever”. With this order given to IGP Ilangakoon, 12 STF personnel and an IP were dispatched with 4 feet iron rods to execute the mission (11). The deliberate and brutal quelling sends the signal that any form of protest by Tamils will be met with an iron fist and impunity. The rest of the prisoners were shifted to Anuradhapura and Mahara prison where they were beaten severely by prison officials and inmates.  On 07th August another of the 31 Tamil political prisoners was reported dead in Ragama teaching hospital (12). The fate of the remaining 29 prisoners remains unknown.

On 7th July another protest commenced in Mannar city against the SLA land grab and militarization. It was organized by activists from the ITAK and was extended support from the Bishop of Mannar as well as Tamil political parties (13). It was a response to the large scale militarized appropriation of land in Mannar:  3,500 acres were grabbed in Chaanar for a military training base and 272 acres in Tha’l’laadi were in the process of being appropriated to construct an air base. The activists listed 69 locations where the armed forces were involved in forcefully grabbing land.  The Tamil civilians denied resettlement in the Chaanar village of Manthai West also participated in the protest. Protesters shouted slogans extending solidarity to the arrested inmates of Vavuvuniya prison as well, demanding all Tamil political prisoners to be released. This goes to show to the more integrative consciousness at work on behalf of Tamils during the ongoing resistance.

Conclusion

Rays of hope are penetrating the abyss, as the Tamil nation is integrating politically and mobilizing resistance within the island. The principle of the Tamil traditional homeland and the right to self determination is reaffirmed within the island as well as it is increasingly becoming internationalized as solidarity and support is accumulating. Of recent, political leaders and human rights activists in New Zealand, The Australian Green Left, and Italian academics, activists and political groups as well as Tamil Diaspora organizations all embraced the above mentioned principles and fundamental rights (14). The demand for an international investigation into the alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity is also escalating. This is a process which seems to run parallel with firm basis on the island as Tamil political parties, activists and their comrades from the empathic section of the Sinhala Left protest. In India, grass root support in Tamil Nadu for the Eezham Tamils has been strong for decades. A phenomenal show of solidarity and activism during the genocidal war seemed to have revitalized a pan-Tamil consciousness and mobilized a larger section of the Tamil Nadu populace.

Support of Eezham Tamils has been organized more intensely and voicing has been rigorous. Now a process of formalizing the demands for the rights of the Eezham nation is gaining a national character. On August 11th the 19th National Convention by the Communist Party of India Women’s Wing (NFIW) held in Chennai, Tamil Nadu called for an independent investigation, affirming that the systematic violence  against Tamil women in the North-East constitutes genocide and connected this to the national question, demanding a  just political solution for the Tamils of North-East (15).

Tamil Diaspora activism and lobbying, Tamil Nadu activism, support from other stateless nations and from Western Leftists is creating an internationalized platform to enable pressure and to voice against Colombo. This is indeed creating hope for the Eezham Tamils as the state is nowhere close to be willing to accommodate Tamils with equality, justice, security and dignity. These are however signs indicating towards a gradual internationalization of solidarity and activism but remains inadequate when it comes to arresting the ongoing regime of the state and its genocidal occupation in the Tamil Homeland. This is mostly due to the limited participation people and grass root activism have in the making of foreign policy in their respective nation-states. It is thus an unfortunate fact that it is this policy which determines the dominant state to state interaction. Irrespective of peoples’ solidarity, it is the state establishments financing and supplying Sri Lanka which determines the immediate halt of Colombo’s processes of eradication.

Athithan Jayapalan is a student in social anthropology and studied in Oslo and Pondicherry universities. Born in Jaffna, he currently lives in Oslo, Norway.

Notes:

1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/abuse-by-sri-lankas-army-rubs-salt-in-wounds-of-war-tamil-women-say/2012/07/06/gJQADaSiRW_story.html (accessed 20.07.2012)

2. http://www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/uriks/Norske-diplomater-fotfulgt-pa-Sri-Lanka-6938088.html (accessed 24.07.2012)

3. The reproduction of the V-Day speech: http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/18734-well-implement-what-is-necessary-mr.html (accessed 30.07.2012)

4. http://www.tamilguardian.com/article.asp?articleid=5288 (accessed 24.07.2012)

5. http://www.jdslanka.org/index.php/2012-01-30-09-30-42/politics-a-current-affairs/10-sri-lanka-minister-threatens-tamils-with-hundreds-of-massacres (accessed 26.07.2012)

6. http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=35308 (accessed 25.07.2012)

7. http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=35310 (accessed 25.07.2012)

8. http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=35326 (accessed 25.07.2012)

9. BBC also adhere to the lie that 3 jailors were kept as hostage and thus the BBC’s relative bias towards Colombo is displayed once more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-18770072 (accessed 25.07.2012)

10. http://www.jdslanka.org/index.php/2012-01-30-09-30-42/human-rights/129-sri-lanka-authorities-refuses-to-handover-remains-of-killed-tamil-prisoner  (accessed 28.07.2012)

11. http://www.lankaenews.com/English/news.php?id=13029 (accessed 04.08.2012)

12. http://www.jdslanka.org/index.php/2012-01-30-09-30-42/human-rights/165-second-political-prisoner-dies-in-sri-lankas-prison-attack (accessed 09.08.2012)

13. http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=35354 (accessed 08.08.2012)

14. New Zeland : http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=35436, Australian Green left : http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/51643 and the Italian solidarity: http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=35434. (Accessed 10.08.2012)

15. http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=35453 (accessed 11.08.2012)

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