Shouldn’t be afraid to let your Tamil flag fly
This war is finally going somewhere. But, um, where? Does it lead to a unitary Sinhala dominated state where Tamils take whatever they get, or does it lead to a federal solution where different communities have control over their own security and judiciary? What does it look like to you? More importantly, which outcome would you consider a victory? This war, beneath the verbiage, looks like pretty much every other war in history. One group is thrashing another and consolidating its own power. The fact is that our government is blockading, searching, arresting, disappearing and killing Tamil people. The party line is that we are doing this (and abandoning negotiations) in order to ensure democracy forâ€¦ these very people. The unofficial line is that anyone disagreeing with the current policy is LTTE. The government is very serious about defeating the LTTE but completely unserious about solving the ethnic conflict. In fact, in the rush for temporary security they are doing permanent damage to the humans, laws and institutions that are the heart of this nation.
In this state of emergency, our Constitution and Fundamental Rights have been suspended. In application, this affects Tamil citizens far more than any other party. The fundamental rights that Tamils donâ€™t have include freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention and punishment, freedom of movement, and â€“ less officially â€“ freedom from torture. This is branded as a â€˜temporaryâ€™ measure, until we smoke the LTTE out. The only thing temporary, however, was the cease-fire of years ago. During that time there was movement, less people being arrested and tortured and â€“ wait for it â€“ far less terrorism. The permanent state of affairs for Tamil people in Sri Lanka has been overt state racism after Independence and then collateral racism from the fight against the LTTE. That is, the government was originally hard on Tamils for being Tamils, now itâ€™s hard on them for possibly being LTTE. It is a very big step that we are not overtly racist and that we do have democratic laws and institutions in place to protect our multi-ethnic culture. To a Tamil citizen picked up from their house in the morning and deposited in jail for weeks, however, it probably doesnâ€™t feel much better.
This war, as itâ€™s being fought, looks pretty much like a Sinhala southern state consolidating its power and thrashing Tamils. Before we subjugated Tamils for being Tamil, and now itâ€™s for possibly being LTTE, but the net effect is still a typical war. The LTTE is an ideal scapegoat in that they do pretty much nothing to recommend themselves to anyone, from killing Rajiv Gandhi to throwing bombs in the zoo. At some point, however, we have to question whether itâ€™s worth throwing out Tamil babies with the LTTE bathwater, and if that is any kind of victory for the Sri Lankan people.
If we are fighting a war for the Sinhalese then we should scrap the borrowed Bush doctrine and just do it. Discourage Tamils from living here by whatever means and build a strong enough security apparatus to control the ones that stay. Issue special IDs and visas for Tamils within Sri Lanka. Limit their movements, especially from the North and East. Do not grant them the same Constitutional rights as other citizens, have security forces single them out, and lower the bar of evidence required for imprisonment and punishment. We should also look the other way when third parties extort or terrorize them. For reference, these are all things our government is doing or has proposed. By some estimates the Sri Lankan Tamil population is now reduced to 5-8%, so we donâ€™t have that far to go. Personally, I feel that a unitary Sinhala nation would be a very boring and sad place to live, but I guess it depends on how you define victory.
This article was written for the latest issue of Montage, out now