« Vanishing Hope in Sri Lanka: Amrita Chandradas on Remembering »

Editor’s Note: Amrita Chandradas is a documentary photographer currently based in Singapore and working across Southeast Asia. In 2014 she won the prestigious “Top 30 Under 30” award by Magnum Photographs. In this exclusive article for Fox & Hedgehog she recounts the story of a trip to Sri Lanka to document the aftereffects of the civil war. You can view more of Amrita’s work on her website.

Sri Lanka—known for her pristine beaches, lush wild jungles, and exotic food—has successfully concealed a dark past of civil unrest and political instability for the last three decades. She is an island divided by twenty-six years of civil war between the Sri Lankan Military and the Tamil Tigers, one of the largest rebel guerrilla forces in the world. The Tigers, otherwise known as LTTE, are infamous for inventing suicide belts; they used women in suicide attacks and successfully assassinated two international political leaders. Sri Lankan society plunged into segregation during the year 1948 when she achieved her independence from the British.

to read more: http://foxhedgehog.com/2015/10/vanishing-hope-in-sri-lanka-amrita-chandradas-on-remembering/

« The scourge of majoritarianism »

Dans un important discours prononcé à l’occasion de la commémoration du 25ème anniversaire de l’expulsion des Musulmans de la province Nord par les LTTE (Tigres de Libération du Tamil Eelam), le Ministre des Affaires Etrangères de Sri Lanka, Mangala Samaraweera, analyse les causes profondes des conflits intercommunautaires qui ont déchiré le pays, et pose les bases d’un processus endogène de réconciliation nationale.

 » I would like to thank the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress for organizing this commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the Expulsion of Muslims from the North. At this historic juncture, when Sri Lanka is grappling with its past and creating a constitutional framework for true peace, this tragic episode in our history, and the anguish that persists to this day, needs to be remembered and addressed.

I would like to particularly thank Minister Rauff Hakeem for his vision and leadership in organizing this event – it is a privilege to be invited here to speak a few words. The SLMC has a long and chequered history of advocating on behalf their community’s rights. Both the late Mr. Ashraff and Minister Hakeem have boldly voiced the grievances and concerns of the Muslim community in Cabinet, in Parliament, in the press and in their travels abroad. The SLMC’s fact-finding and reporting efforts during the Aluthgama Pogrom and surrounding attacks were particularly bold.

The history and suffering of Sri Lanka’s Northern Muslims is a microcosm of our post-Independence history. In October 1990 the LTTE gave 75,000 Muslims under forty-eight hours to leave their ancestral homes across the North and take nothing more than their clothes and 500 rupees to live in IDP camps – where an estimated 80 percent remain 25 years later.

They had peacefully lived, farmed and traded with their Tamil brethren for centuries. In fact, some Muslims initially helped the LTTE and many more were sympathetic to their cause. The bonds between the communities were close. Therefore, the LTTE’s sudden order came as a surprise to many. It was a crime that shocked the conscience of the entire country.

The LTTE’s justification echoed the age-old line of majorities towards minorities: they, the majority, had been lenient, generous and considerate, while the minorities have been treacherous and ungrateful. In this case, the Tigers alleged that the Muslims’ specific crime was colluding with the state and the Indian Peacekeeping Forces.

But underlying the arguments about Muslims being a fifth column and a security threat to the LTTE was something more pernicious. It was a belief that the power of numerical majority was a justification for violating the rights of individuals and minority groups.

The North of Sri Lanka was as much home for its Muslim population as it was for its Tamil population. Both communities had as much claim as the other to live there and these claims were not contested. The two communities had lived together for centuries in peace.

But the LTTE believed that the Tamil population’s numerical majority gave it the right to expel the entire Muslim population. It was not just the LTTE, few Tamils criticized the LTTE while many justified their actions; even today Muslims returning to their homes face majoritarian resistance from Tamil bureaucrats.

The story is of course many-sided. Numerous Tamils weeped when their Muslim neighbors left, hiding valuables on their behalf and helping them in what little way they could. But as a whole, the majority community, failed to stand in solidarity and protect the rights of the minority community in their midst.

The expulsion occurred because the LTTE was unable to accept a society based on equality and freedom; they were unable to accept that North was multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious. They were unable to celebrate diversity. They were even unable to have the basic decency to give the community they exiled a few extra days or weeks to leave and to take their heirlooms and title deeds with them.

The racism and majoritarianism undergirding the LTTE’s expulsion of Muslims from the North is not something isolated to the Tamil community. It prevails to this day among all communities in our society. Just as the LTTE was unable to accept a multi-ethnic North, extremists in the South are unable to celebrate our country’s diversity – much the less accept that Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and Malays are as much a part of Sri Lanka as the Sinhalese.

Especially since the end of the war, which should have ushered introspection, magnanimity and healing, majoritarianism in the South raised its ugly head. The government indulged in an orgy of triumphalism based on equating Sri Lanka’s identity with the Sinhala-Buddhist community, and relegated the minority communities to the place of unwanted guests.

They ignored the grievances of those in the North and the South and trampled on their rights. The Aluthgama Pogrom and the hundreds of smaller attacks surrounding it were a clear signal to minorities that they were not only second-class citizens but that the state had abdicated from discharging its basic responsibilities towards them, including safeguarding their person and property.

In fact, it is this scourge of majoritarianism that is at the very centre of our post-Independence failure to build a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka that is united and undivided both on the map and in its citizens’ hearts and minds. Each and every ethnic, religious, class and caste group discriminates and oppresses in areas where they form a majority whether it be in the North, South, East or West.

At this critical moment in Sri Lanka’s history the lessons of the expulsion have much to teach us. Since Independence we have failed to establish a society where all citizens feel equal and free and, as a result, instead of peace, conflict has prevailed.

The end of the war presented a historic opportunity for all our communities and leaders to demonstrate true leadership by breaking away from the past and beginning the task of building a truly united Sri Lanka. Just as Muslims and Tamils lived together as brothers and sisters in the North for centuries; prior to Independence in 1948, Sri Lanka had many centuries of ethnic amity and peace.

Of course, there were disturbances, like the 1915 riots, but they were isolated and rare. Even before the colonial era, Sri Lanka enjoyed a highly syncretic culture – there is evidence that Buddhism was widely practiced by the Tamils of Jaffna, Tamil was spoken by the kings of Kandy and there are some indications that the language of court was Tamil; Muslims generally speak both Sinhalese and Tamil and thus it could be argued that they are the most Sri Lankan of all the ethnic groups. They were also functionaries at the Dalada Maligawa and participated in the Kandy Esala Perahera. The religious and cultural practices of Sri Lanka’s many communities indicate a high degree of tolerance and borrowing.

We need to understand why that amity broke down, and why it broke down to the extent that war and violence followed.

The challenge for us today is to learn from our past failures, remedy mistakes and move forward. This is a rare opportunity we cannot miss. Speaking in Parliament last Friday I said, “Sri Lanka has yet another window of opportunity to come to terms with its past and move on. Extremists in the North and in the South have been defeated in the recent elections, two of the most liberal minded leaders since independence are leading the country and the two main parties, for the first time in history, have formed a national unity government. This is a moment we cannot afford to lose.”

But it will not be an easy or a pleasant process: we will have to look critically at our own faults and strive hard to hear the voices of others. It will require courage and commitment. But I am confident it can be done.

The TNA recently announced that it would be leading its own community in a process of introspection. The SLMC, welcoming this statement, indicated that it would do so as well. The National Government comprising of both the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party have committed themselves to guiding the entire country in this difficult process of dealing with the past.

As for the Government of Sri Lanka – as you are aware- we are now beginning to lay the foundations for peace and reconciliation through truth-seeking, accountability, reparations and non-recurrence. Already the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation, the Ministry of Resettlement and other government agencies are taking steps to assist in this process, and just yesterday I met with civil society, including representatives of the Muslim community, to discuss the consultations process necessary to design the mechanisms to implement this process.

Muslims will be an integral part of the truth, justice, reparations and non-recurrence process.

Muslims’ grievances and concerns will be a part of the consultations, design and operationalization of the domestic mechanisms; including the Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence, the Judicial Mechanism, the Office of Missing Persons and the Office of Reparations. Together with the Ministries and government agencies, these mechanisms, will provide much needed relief to the daily struggle of the thousands of Muslims who remain in IDP camps, are struggling to return to their homes or are dealing with the losses of loved ones.

These mechanisms will not only address the suffering and grievances of members of the Muslim community, they will also address the grievances and concerns of members of the Sinhala and Tamil communities and the concerns of other minority groups.

At this historic moment, let us not be afraid to engage in meaningful dialogue aimed at finding solutions to problems as opposed to pointing fingers, heaping blame and scoring political points at the expense of future generations. Let us design, define and create our future by our hopes and aspirations, and not be held back by the fears and prejudices of the past. Let us not be afraid to dream.  »
(source: srilankabrief.org/2015/10)

 » Even God Cannot Save Tamils if People Vote for Diaspora Backed TNPF – ACTC “Cycle” » by D.B.S.Jeyaraj

« The ACTC/TNPF is strongly backed and heavily influenced by LTTE and Pro-LTTE elements in the Global Tamil Diaspora.These tiger and pro-tiger elements are strongly opposed to the TNA and its current political approach of working towards an acceptable political settlement within a united but not necessarily unitary Sri Lanka. The overall objective of these elements is two – fold. Revive the LTTE in some form and engage in violence in Sri Lanka. Undermine the political process and disrupt all positive political engagement between Tamil representatives and the Governments in power in Colombo. »

« Former Tamil Tigers set to contest upcoming Sri Lankan election » by Channel NewsAsia

Sivanathan Navindra was once known as Venthan, a former bodyguard of the slain Velupillai Prabhakaran, leader of the world’s deadliest terrorist organisation at the time, the Tamil Tigers.

When Sri Lanka goes to the polls on Aug 17, Mr Sivanathan will be a candidate, hoping to be elected as a member of parliament.

see: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/former-tamil-tigers-set/2045446.html

« Tigers as Spiders! Ex – LTTE Cadres Contesting as Independent Group in Jaffna » by D.B.S.Jeyaraj

6,151 Candidates from 21 registered political parties and 201 independent groups are contesting the Sri Lankan Parliamentary elections scheduled for August 17th 2015. Of these 3, 653 are from the 21 parties and 2,498 from independent groups. Predictably the spotlight in general has been on the major political parties both nationally and regionally in g. However a particular group of independents contesting in the north has also attracted much attention. This is because the group comprises former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

see: http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/42516

« “Tiger” Diaspora Backs Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam led All-Ceylon Tamil Congress (TNPF) in Polls » by D.B.S.Jeyaraj

« Valvettithurai is a place that has figured prominently in the politics of Sri Lankan Tamils. Valvettithurai is a coastal town along the Vadamaratchy littoral region of the northern Jaffna peninsula.VVT as Valvettithurai is generally referred to acquired a notorious reputation at one time as the hotbed of smuggling. In later years Valvettithurai became known as the nursery of Tamil militancy. A very large number of VVT youths have been at the forefront of the Tamil armed struggle launched to achieve the secessionist ideal of Tamil Eelam. Chief among these was Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) leader Thiruvengadam Velupillai Prabhakaran. »

see: http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/42456

« Political Role of Federal Party (ITAK) in Unmaking and Making Govts in 1960 » by D.B.S. JEYARAJ

« Election mania spreads rapidly in the country with Parliamentary polls being scheduled for August 17th 2015 and the Tamil inhabited areas of the Northern and Eastern provinces are also afflicted. Currently the premier political configuration of the Sri Lankan Tamils is the Tamil National Alliance(TNA) consisting of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front(EPRLF), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization(TELO)and Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam(PLOTE). The TNA contests elections under the House symbol of its chief constituent ITAK. At the 2010 Parliamentary elections the TNA contesting as ITAK won 13 seats in both provinces and was entitled to a national list seat also.The TNA hopes to increase its parliamentary tally in the 2015 poll. »

see: http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/42395

« Sri Lanka: New report names torture camps and perpetrators » by Athula Vithanage

« A security force insider has told ITJP researchers that military intelligence officials operating from JOSEF camp ‘were actively looking for any Tamils returning home from abroad in order to interrogate them’, since President Maithripala Sirisena was elected to office in 2015. ITJP has recorded eight accounts of torture and abuse that happened after January 8, 2015, the most recent in July 2015. »

see: http://www.jdslanka.org/index.php/news-features/human-rights/543-sri-lanka-new-report-names-torture-camps-and-perpetrators

« Don’t Ignore The Role Of Minor Opposition Parties » by Thrishantha Nanayakkara

This is the backdrop on which we are going for the general election in August 2015. Again, I want to stress on the significance of the minor party politics in the parliament. Whenever, a major party secured undue power, they chose to do divisive and Nationalistic politics brewing a polarization between North and the South. The antidote seems to be a strong minor party block that appreciates the need for good governance, rule of law, democracy, and National reconciliation. Traditionally, minor conventional leftist parties and the Muslim Congress have settled down to conform with the ruling party in exchange of ministerial positions. Therefore, that block should come from minor parties that have traditionally stood by their principles. Due to this reason, I would dream of that block to come from TNA and JVP with a strong will to defend above National priorities and to hold the major parties accountable for it, so that they will do more of that politics to win over the vote base of minor parties than doing more of Nationalistic and divisive politics. Having said that, I would strongly urge JVP to abandon their traditional tactics of waiting till a disaster happens to make their point, and to be a more active driving force in the opposition with determination to engage positively.

see: https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/dont-ignore-the-role-of-minor-opposition-parties/

« Tamil Tiger Women: Through Selected Writings By Them » by Charles Sarvan

Under the Tamil Tigers, women enjoyed a rare degree of emancipation. They carried out the same duties, did the same work, suffered and died as their male comrades. They saw it as a challenge to prove they were as good, if not better, than the men and so deserved their new status as equals. In Malaimahal’s Puthiya Kathaikal (‘New Stories’), the Indian army for the very first time in its history battles an all-women unit. (Female Tiger units are known to have routed all-male government forces.) It is indeed a new story because it is about a new breed of women freed from the notions and constrains of conservative society. Words from the poem ‘Easter, 1916’ by Yeats come to mind: “All changed, changed utterly: / A terrible beauty is born”. (The Easter uprising was an attempt by the Irish to free themselves from British imperial rule but it couldn’t prevail against superior numbers and fire-power.) A mother is shocked that her daughter who as a child was even afraid to go out in the dark (presumably to the toilet) is now a Sea Tiger, wearing shorts and diving deep into the dark depths of the ocean. Another woman comments that the sea, outraged at this unbecoming behaviour by a woman, will surely storm and rage. In Pillai’s perceptive and tragic Malayalam novel of the 1950s, Chemmeen, the belief is recounted that the life of a fisherman far out at sea is in the hands of his wife ashore. Should she behave improperly, Kadalamma (literally, sea-mother, meaning the goddess of the sea) would visit vengeance on her husband. Such pseudo-religious beliefs were (are?) used by older folk to control the younger, particularly women. Patriarchy, supported by complicit, conservative and collaborative women, often disguises its drive to domination as religious piety and social propriety. As Louis Althusser showed, state and society maintain themselves through Ideology which includes religious belief. The exploited – in this case, females – are persuaded to believe in and support their own exploitation and subordination.

see: https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/tamil-tiger-women-through-selected-writings-by-them/

see also: tamiltigerwomen.com

« Riots helped to define Canada’s Tamil community » by Kumaran Nadesan

Thirty-two years ago on Friday, anti-Tamil riots burned a hole into the South Asian island nation of Sri Lanka that it still struggles to close. For many of us in the Canadian Tamil diaspora, it is an emotional reminder of not only what we had lost in Sri Lanka but also what we have gained in Canada in return

see: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/07/23/riots-helped-to-define-canadas-tamil-community.html

« Sri Lanka opposition asks government to act on US report on LTTE » by The Economic Times

Asserting that there is a « threat » to national security, Sri Lanka’s opposition today asked the government to act urgently over a US report which said that the LTTE’s international network and funding was intact.

via: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/sri-lanka-opposition-asks-government-to-act-on-us-report-on-ltte/articleshow/47769468.cms

« Internal Political Power Bashing in the Name of Justice for War Victims » by Rajan Hoole, N. Sivapalan, Ahilan Kadirgamar and K. Sritharan

« The UN Human Rights Commission’s decision to investigate violations and the huge loss of life during the last months of the war concluded in 2009 was a significant victory for the victims. The dignity of the victims required that the truth must be told without fear or favour, and processes of justice and restoration set in motion. And the wrong was not all on one side. Dignity also demands that we await the verdict of the judges with restraint and reverence for the name of justice. »

via: http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=120781

« “Could we say the LTTE was Involved in the Genocide of its Own People by Quoting all the Killings it Carried Out? » by Rajan Hoole, N. Sivapalan, Ahilan Kadirgamar and K. Sritharan

The UN Human Rights Commission’s decision to investigate violations and the huge loss of life during the last months of the war concluded in 2009 was a significant victory for the victims.

The dignity of the victims required that the truth must be told without fear or favour, and processes of justice and restoration set in motion. And the wrong was not all on one side.

Dignity also demands that we await the verdict of the judges with restraint and reverence for the name of justice.

But in Jaffna, all hell broke loose over the coming UNHRC report in an orgy of mud-slinging, recrimination and effigy burning for Tamil leadership spoils.

Some academics in Jaffna University led by taking on themselves the task of identifying and upbraiding ‘traitors to the race’ in a return to dangerous heroics. MPs Sampanthan and Sumanthiran were excoriated for attending the Independence Day function.

The first shot in virtually christening the coming UN report a ‘genocide report’ was fired by Northern Chief Minister Justice Wigneswaran on 10th February 2015 in the Provincial Council resolution he advanced.

The opinion held by a sizeable portion of the university teachers was not to politicise the coming UN report, so as to allow Sinhalese to read it with an open mind. There was no opposition to delay, as requested by the new government. But this moderate stance got lost in the rush of events. It was presented to the media on 13th February as the University Teachers demanding the release of the report as scheduled in March. »

via: http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/39217

« Tamil “Extremists” Target Sampanthan and Sumanthiran of the TNA as “Traitors” » by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

« Tamil National Alliance(TNA)Leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan MP and TNA National list Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran won many hearts and minds by participating in the official Independence day ceremony held in Battaramulla on February 4th…. »

via: http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/39005