Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Two abducted aid workers return, eight missing amid threats to Sri Lanka's peace bid by Shimali Senanayake

Two aid workers allegedly kidnapped by unidentified gunmen returned Wednesday, but eight other remained missing amid threats by Tamil Tiger rebels to pull out of peace talks with the Sri Lankan government.

The guerrillas accused para-military forces supported by the Sri Lankan army of kidnapping 10 aid workers of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization or TRO, and said the abductions made it "difficult to resume talks," with the government expected to take place in Geneva, later this month.

The TRO is a registered charity in Sri Lanka, believed to have strong links to the Tigers.

"There has been some miscommunication. The two girls had returned home Monday, but were afraid to report anything due to threats to their lives from the abductors," said Arjunan Ethirveerasingam, of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization. "We still haven't head anything from the others," he said, about the eight other aid workers who remained missing.

He said it wasn't immediately known if the two female workers had been released or had escaped, adding that they were being questioned.

The two separate alleged abductions had taken place on Sunday and Monday close to the Welikanda army check point in restive eastern Batticaloa, about 150 kilometers from the capital Colombo, Ethiriveerasingham said.

The government and the military refuted the charge. "The government categorically denies any such incident taking place in close proximity to the Walikanda checkpoint," the governments said in a statement.

"This is a fabricated story against the security forces," said Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe, military spokesman. He said the location the TRO alleges the abductions took place was a populated area and someone would have witnessed the incident, which however was not the case.

However, the alleged incidents that raised international concern, also worried the government about its effect on proposed talks with the Tigers. Some speculated meanwhile, that the alleged abductions were aimed at whipping up international sentiment against the government and for the Tigers to squeeze out of the Geneva talks.

The Tigers' threat on Tuesday came barely a week after Norway's top peace envoy Erik Solheim broke an almost three year deadlock to resume stalled peace talks between the government and the guerrillas amid fears that the island was on the brink of war.

The Tigers have been fighting for a separate state since 1983 for the island's ethnic Tamil minority, claiming discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. Nearly 65,000 people were killed before Norway brokered a truce in February 2002. Subsequent peace talks broke down a year later amid rebel demands for wide autonomy in the Tamil-majority north and east.

Sanctioned by religion, killings go on by Kumbakarna

In 1997 Sri Lanka had established a world record as being the country with the highest number of suicides in the world, with 47 per 100,000 persons. The total for the year was approximately 9000. While the figure came down to 4000 in 1998, the total number of people who had taken their own lives numbered one lakh since 1983. 90 percent of these were Sinhala Buddhists. But Sri Lanka does not seem to be too bothered by these deaths. Instead she is showing the greatest concern about the suicides of 147 Black Tigers.

Why is it that the government ignores the suicides of a lakh of people but is ready to even change the Constitution because of the suicide of 147 Black Tigers.

Could it be because the 147 are Tamils and the others are Sinhalese? Or is it because when they kill themselves they also kill eminent persons. The answer could be both reasons.

The Tigers have admitted that 14,000 of their cadres have been killed during the past 16 years. About 9000 have died after 1995 and among them are the 147 Black Tigers. Anton Balasingham once said that while the Tamils have thousands of youth willing to sacrifice their lives for Eelam, the Sinhalese had only one soldier -Gamini Gunaratne of Hasalaka. But the fact is that while there is no publicity and the government even tends to deliberately suppress the information, there is no dearth of Sinhala soldiers who are willing to lay down their lives for the country. Unofficial reports state that hundreds of them sacrificed their lives at Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi etc.

Unfortunately the Sinhala community which can repeat by rote the names of the Black Tigers including Captain Miller, has no such information on their soldiers. Instead they build statues and memorials and hold commemorations for soldiers- dead and missing in action.

The LTTE always uses the example of the Black Tigers as the personification of strong character, discipline and dedication because of their readiness to swallow the cyanide capsule, any time.

Many international commentators repeat the mantra that after the Vietcong of Vietnam, the Tigers are leading the world in sacrificing their lives. On the other hand the Sri Lankan security services are depicted as frightened mice who desert their posts, in order to show their low morale.

It is generally estimated that there are about 22,000 deserters from the forces. Some of them do return to the army but are moralised soldiers. However, when you look at the total numbers in the armed services which stands at about 247,000 the deserters amount to around 10 percent, in the last two decades.

More important is the fact that the soldier does not have a special place in the hearts of the larger segment of the Sinhala community whose life is one big carnival. It merely sees the soldier as another customer for its goods.

South of Vavuniya the soldier encounters a coterie ready to pick his pockets and a pack of self-interested power hungry politicians. In such a scenario it is a miracle that only 10 percent have deserted the armed forces.

Even in the LTTE where hosannas are sung about their heroism, deserters are plentiful. We don't hear about those who abandon the cyanide culture. But between 1993 and December 1998, 788 Tiger cadres surrendered to the Army. This year the figure was 276, making a total of 1064.

At present it is reported that the strength of the LTTE is around 5000 and for any combined operation they can muster some 3500 cadres. This itself is a miracle. Many commentators say if operation Riviresa had been followed immediately by Jaya Sikurui there was a possibility that in the Wanni at least 50 percent of the cadres would have deserted the LTTE. This was proved during the IPKF operation in the Wanni in 1988.

The cyanide culture, and the dedication of the Tigers is another myth invented to enhance the image of the Tigers.

But in the last five years there has been some impact of Hindu fundamentalism on the LTTE. Groups such as the RSS (Rashtiya Swayan Sevake) the International Hindu Front, the Shivsena have begun learning from the LTTE and vice versa. Even though the LTTE has been described as a Christian missionary army, the impact of Hindu fundamentalism is considerable.

While Prabhakaran says the LTTE is aligned with the Hindu vision, the US Secretary of State once said that the LTTE is a Hindu fundamentalist organisation. (She retracted this later, but US officials hold the view that Hindu fundamentalism influences the LTTE).

According to a dialogue between Krishna (Vishnu) and Arjuna, the taking of one's life and that of another is endorsed by religious belief. Under the Hindu concept of an unchanging soul transmigrating from life to life, death does not end life, and life does not end with death. Krishna tells Arjuna there is no sin in taking one's own life. The appearance may change, but the unchanging soul will not. So suicide and killing of others is justified by religion. Sections of the Defence authorities who are falling over each other to build Hindu kovils would do well to realise the newest spiritual sustenance of the Tiger killers is the Hindu Atman concept. With great foresight the LTTE is publicising a video which shows the Black Tigers performing Vishnu Pujas before their departure to kill their targets and themselves. The Christian missionaries supporting the LTTE and propagating their religion will soon meet the reincarnation of Vishnu, in the Wanni and the East.

(Sunday Times, 15th August 1999)

Tamil Separatism and the Christian Church by "Kumbakarna"

The agitation carried out by the Catholic church and other Christian denominations against the date for the PC polls ended in a victory for them. A special feature of this agitation was the demand for "the rights of the minorities". Up to now, this had not been addressed directly by the church, but rather by the network of non-governmental organisations funded by Christian countries.

It is after a long time that the Christian and Catholic churches have become politically active. In 1961, the campaign against nationalisation of schools was led by Thomas Cardinal Cooray. On that occasion, the effort was to "save the schools of God from the heathens". This time, the political rights of the chosen people are being addressed.

After the violence and corrupt practices of the NWPC polls, it was primarily the criticism levelled by the church which forced the govt on to the defensive. Next, despite the fact that the Supreme Court was already deliberating on the question of the date for the next polls, the church got God’s people out on the streets.

An interesting feature of this demonstration was the English slogan on placards carried by some of the participants, which read "LET US PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF MINORITIES". This is of course a standard slogan of Tamil separatism. Strangely, none of the Sinhalese slogans on display was a translation of this, but rather dealt with the reason for the agitation announced earlier, i.e. the presumed difficulty of worshipping on Good Friday if the polls were held the day before. It is obvious that there is a deliberate effort to feed the Tamil separatist agenda to Sinhalese Catholics and Protestants.

When the Dollar and Kent farm colonies were wiped out by the LTTE, and the Sinhalese Catholic fishing community at Kokilai was slaughtered and their church burnt down, the silence of the Catholic church was deafening. When the ‘Christian Brothers’ were murdered because they kept their schools open in defiance of the LTTE, there was not a word uttered about the ‘freedom of worship’. In the face of the LTTE’s ethnic cleansing, carried out by the slaughter of Sinhala villagers in the northern and eastern provinces, there was nothing said by the church about ‘rights’.

On the other hand, what the church is most eager to do is to ‘negotiate’ with the terrorists. The latest effort in this regard was the trip to the Vanni by Bishops Malcolm Ranjith and Kenneth Fernando.

It is worth examining why the official institutions of the Christian and Catholic communities are trying so hard to further the aims of Tamil rascism and separatism.

Internationally, the spread of the various denominations of the Christian faith has progressed slowly but steadily. Catholics, GreekOrthodox and Protestant Christians make up 36% of the global population at present, while at the beginning of this century it was 32%. However, their hold on economic power has been slipping. While 84.2% of manufacturing output was in the hands of Christian nations in 1928, it is projected to be 51% in the year 2000. There have been demographic changes as well. While 57% of Christians were ‘white’ at the beginning of the century, this number has declined to 40% now.

The struggle for converts is virtually over in Africa and Latin America. While the latter is more or less completely Catholic or Protestant, in Africa the lines between the Islamic north and the Christian south are clearly drawn. The battleground now is Asia, particularly the impoverished south. Providing assistance to the pan-Tamil agenda of people like Bishop Emannuel is a preliminary step towards the creation of a Christian, albeit Tamil, nation-state. The cry of ‘protecting minority rights’ and the call for the intervention of western (read Christian) govts is part of the process. Perhaps it is a matter of time before we hear the call for a NATO ‘implementation’ force to follow a western-brokered ‘peace accord’.

The church attempts to justify its support for the separatist cause in the following manner. If the Buddhists are permitted to defeat Tamil militancy, the argument goes, they will next attack the Christians. So backing the Tamil agenda is presented to Sinhalese Christians as self-preservation.

Buddhist-Christian relations were strained by the agitation over the nationlisation of schools in 1961. Further damage was caused by the subsequent conspiracy of Christian military officers, and schemes like "Catholic Action". Do the churches want to proceed further down the same road? It should be borne in mind by the leaders of these institutions that it is easier to prevent a fire than to put it out.

"Tamilisation" and "Sinhalisatation" by Kamalika Pieris

The word ‘Sinhala’ applied to all those who peopled Sri Lanka in the ancient period. Sri Lanka was known as Sinhaladvipa, with the Sinhala people and Sinhala language. K. M. de Silva in his introductory remark to his book " History of Sri Lanka" suggests that ethnicity was not an important point of division in ancient Sri Lanka. He suggests that pre-colonial Sri Lanka was a multi-ethnic society (a conception which emphasised harmony and a spirit of live and let live) rather than a plural society (in which tension between ethnic and other distinctive groups is a main feature). (K. M. De Silva."History of Sri Lanka’ p 13)

The Sinhala kings had a policy of encouraging foreign contacts , specially those who could help in trade. This was possibly a factor in the assimilation of Tamil traders and Arab traders (Muslims) since both groups were very strong commercial powers in the Indian Ocean during the medieval period . The Muslims were also useful during the Portugese and Dutch occupation. They acted as envoys of the Kandyan king, to South Indian rulers. They were also probably acting as spies in the low county where the Portugese and Dutch were. This assimilation was done in a controlled manner. When the Muslims fled to the Kandyan Kingdom during Portugese times, King Senerat sent them to the Batticloa region, with the instruction that they were to take Sinhala vasagam and integrate into the community within a few generations.

Until recently the Muslims did not bother to publicise the fact that they had Sinhala vasagam. Now they do. At a recent Muslim function, N. M. Ameen pointed out that ‘Our forefathers married Sinhalese women. Some of our names such as Waidyasekara Mudiyanselage are in fact Sinhala names.’ Faiz Mustapha also said that he had a Sinhala vasagama and that he had been described as a "Kandyan Arab". (Daily News. 25.2.99 p3) The Al Islam Foundation appealed to all Muslim states and organisations throughout the world to fully support the call made by the International Buddhist conference that the United Nations declare Vesak as a UN holiday. It said: "The overwhelming majority of Buddhists in Sri Lanka have practised tolerance and lived in harmony for centuries with the local Muslims and it is but correct that the Ummah reciprocates. Of course there are chauvinists and buffaloes claiming to be animal lovers who are tyring to create a Muslim-Buddhist conflageration, but these are just a few on the lunatic fringe the vast majority are for amity in the correct Buddhist spirit." (Daily News. 25 .2 .99 p3)

The Portuguese and Dutch married local women. Therefore assimilation involved these groups too. Though Portugese and Dutch had fair hair and blue eyes, everybody in Sri Lanka has black hair and brown eyes. There is also evidence that from about the 16th century to about the 18th, the low country had waves of immigrants from South India, specially Kerala. Descendants of the southern coastal towns are now finding seventh generation ancestors who were from Kerala.

Tamils have assimilated into the Sinhala nation, at all times in its history. Some of these links are now dug out laboriously and presented as indications of Tamil domination. They are not. They are examples of assimilation. For example James Rutnam pointed out that President Chandrika Kumaratunga had a direct ancestor called Nilaperumal, a Tamil from South India who arrived in Sri Lanka in the 16th century. The history of Nilaperumal’s descendants was given. What this history actually indicated, was how anxious the descendants were to shed their Tamil origins through a series of marriages to foreigners and locals. (Sunday leader 18.10.98 p 11). Ralph Pieris has said that Keppetipola was a Tamil. This again indicates the degree of assimilation which was permitted in the Kandyan Kingdom.

Assimilation also extended to religion. A very special and unique feature of the Sinhala civilisation was its tolerance and hospitality to the various religions which took root in the country, such as Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. This is a unique feature not commonly found in other civilisations. We should keep in mind at this point that the Tamil separatist movement has issued a voluminous literature saying that the Sinhala Buddhists are regularly killing Tamil Hindus. Hinduism operates at two levels in Sri Lanka. Some of the Hindu deities are selectively included in popular Buddhism, but at a minor level. Sri Pada was also called Adam’s Peak and was venerated by Muslims.

Medieval Sinhala culture demonstrated a high degree of assimilation of foreign cultures. The ability to assimilate immigrants is surely an indication of the greatness of a culture, and also an indication of its confidence in itself. This assimilation was controlled and selective. For example, at no time was the Tamil-Hindu culture allowed to submerge the Sinhala culture. Tamil language and Hinduism were selectively incorporated into the medieval Sinhala culture, specially in the royal court. It was not allowed to dominate or overwhelm the Sinhala culture, which continued to roll along gloriously. (I have included the concept of ‘integration’ also in the term "assimilation".)

"Hindu and Tamil influences were increasingly felt in Sinhalese society of the 14th century and after. This has the result of active social and cultural contacts between the Sinhalese kingdom and South India. Such influences were strengthened by the arrival of a considerable number of Indian Brahmins,the activities of mercantile communities of Indian origin and the settlement of several such groups of Indians in the towns and the coastal regions. The Brahmins were Tamil and Telegu speakers. The court which inherited the legacies of the Malabar aristocracy of Gampola was very receptive to the new influences. Some members of the royal family had even Tamil names. The daughter of Parakramabahu VI had the name Ulakudayadevi. Sapumal, the adopted son and general of Parakramabahu VI is known to have had the name Canakapperumal. The two most influential and powerful families in the Sinhalese kingdom during 14th and 15th centuries were those of Alagakkonara and Senalankadhikara both of which were of Malayali extraction. Both families were from the Menon community. The use of Sanskrit and Tamil languages during the time, was because the court officials were familiar with those languages. South Indians were employed as court officials in the Kotte period. Tiruvarangaperumal, a Tamil officer of Indian extraction was in charge of royal documents in the reign of Buvanekabahu VII during the 16th century. (S Pathmanathan Journal Royal Asiatic Society. Vol. 18 n.s.1974 p61-62)

The notion of the pure Aryan Sinhala race is a notion invented by Europeans and picked up by the Sinhalese later on. The Tamil Separatist Movement forgets this, when it sneers at the Sinhalese. In his novel "the Lost Lenore" Regi Siriwardene deals with the issue of racial hybridity (1996). The characters are a Portugese Burgher, whose mother was half Tamil, with a Sinhalese wife. There is a great grandmother from Negombo who is a Tamil Catholic. In Negombo ‘there are even people there who call themselves Sinhalese but speak Tamil at home’. Then there are the Rangamas, probably Kandyan ‘aristos’ who would objects to ‘mikos’. A bizarre collection (p 40,66,68). We are told in this novel that Sri Lanka is one of the most hybrid nations on God’s earth. However Sri Lankans held hybridity in low esteem. Sinhalese themselves are utterly hybrid. "There are few people in the world whose culture is more hybrid than that of the Sinhalese". Their food is from South India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Tamilnadu. Their weddings are a cultural mishmash with a lot of Christian borrowing. Sri Lankan dress is eclectic too. The heroine remarks "There are deep racial prejudices in this country". Portugese Burghers are called thuppahi, miko, lafai or karapoththa. (Regi Siriwardene, "The Lost Lenore". p 41,42,43,44,65,70)

There is little indication of an inter-penetration of Sinhala and Tamil cultures. Both languages have borrowed words from each other. The Tamil language has borrowed words like "murunga’ from Sinhala. In the North and East there are personal names such as Mudiyanse Sinnethamby, Ratnayake Ramalingam, or even a combination like Ponnambalam Babunhamy (Names fictitious). Such combinations can found even today in parts of the Eastern Province. One explanation offered is that the first registrars of births were Tamil and they gave a Tamil name to each baby.

What is far more visible in Sri Lanka however are the stages in the progressive assimilation of the Tamil immigrants into the Sinhala culture. The Census for 1911 stated that ‘Many branches of the Tamil race have however settled in Ceylon and have been absorbed into the population and adopting Sinhalese custom. Certain castes in Ceylon trace their descent directly from South Indian tribes and along the coast from Negombo to Puttalam Tamil is as much spoken as Sinhalese by villagers calling themselves Sinhalese but undoubtedly of Tamil descent. In the Hiriyala Hatpattu (in Kurunegala district) there are Sinhalese who are Hindus and speak Tamil. They can read and write in Sinhala but speak Tamil at home (Census of 1911 pp 209, 222). "Though Tamils describe themselves in the Census Schedule as Buddhists and Sinhalese entered Tamil as the only language they could read and write, it is inconceivable that any Sinhalese would enter himself as Tamil or a Tamil as a Sinhalese" (p 196). If we ignore the idiotic conclusion it is clear, that ethnicity was not important in rural British Ceylon. The natives spoke Sinhala and Tamil, were Hindu and Buddhist and mingled comfortably with each other. These intermingled groups were mostly in the coastal areas, where the Tamil speakers first landed. As they established themselves and moved further into the interior of the country, they dropped Tamil and spoke Sinhalese. That is why even today, the Tamil speakers are to be found hugging the coast, while the interior is Sinhala speaking.

The history of the Sri Lanka Tamils as a distinct group can be traced back to the residual group left in the Jaffna Peninsula, after the South Indian invations of the 10th-13th centuries had come to an end. This residual group thereafter developed into as weak and wobbly kingdom which lasted from 13th to 16th century. It only included the Jaffna Peninsula and its environs and did not include even the Wanni. This kingdom does not have a clear history, let alone a glorious one. Its records are unsatisfactory and it lacks a systematic listing of its kings. That is because this kingdom was in fact, the landing pad for the later South Indian kingdom of Pandya and Vijayanagara, in their efforts to take over Sri Lanka. It was thus, during its 300 year history, often under subjugation, thus indicating how weak it really was and why its kings were sometimes called ‘kinglets’.

The Portugese, Dutch and British helped in the creation of a Tamil linguistic group, by providing western education in Tamil medium for North and East. In addition, the British encouraged the Jaffna Tamils to settle in or near Trincomalee. The Sinhalese villages in the East were starved off. The Census of the British period started calling North and Eastern Provinces, "Tamil areas". They also defined the Tamils as a separate race in Sri Lanka. Population density was ignored.