June protests in Colombo: ‘A child weeps, as family members call for Tamil political prisoners to be freed’ photo by Dinidu de Alwis
The solution to the ethnic conflict is undoubtedly solidarity, not the impossible division of the country along ethnic lines. However, the government isn’t really working towards this goal and many liberals are reluctant to even call themselves Sri Lankan. So who is working towards non-racial solidarity? The socialists.
What many people don’t know about Sri Lanka is that there were two rebellions, both started by terrorist groups, both crushed through brutal force. The JVP led the southern insurrection(s) and were crushed at the cost of at least 65,000 lives. They started off as Marxists, but eventually became more Sinhala racist. Today, they have re-emerged as a political party, and now they are leading calls for equal rights.
On May Day, I saw the JVP parading down my street. They had the usually floats bashing capitalism and the US, but I also saw phalanxes of Tamil women holding pictures of the detained, dead or disappeared and calling for equal rights for Tamil citizens. By the same token, there have been JVP organized protests in Fort calling for the release of Tamil prisoners and the right to legal and police service in the Tamil language.
Of course, Mahinda was once a human rights lawyer, during the southern insurrection. Human rights is the rallying cry of the opposition, often forgotten once they get into power. It is, however, true to the spirit of socialism that groups like the JVP are taking up Tamil issues as national concerns. This is, in essence, solidarity.
The tragedy of Sri Lanka is characterised by two destructive nationalisms. On the one hand, we have Sinhala Buddhist nationalism and its mobilisation by successive regimes in their bid for state power. On the other hand, the Tigers, with their most extreme interpretation of Tamil nationalism, have dominated the Tamil political scene…
One way to break the deadlock spawned by the two destructive nationalisms is to reframe the ‘national question’, as the problem is historically known in Sri Lanka. This would necessitate going beyond any formulaic solution based on the ‘right to self-determination’.
Basically, non-racial, Sri Lankan solidarity. I’m not a socialist and I’m not a Jippa, but that’s basically what I’m saying. Solidarity.