Attacking Tamils continues – No lesson learnt

In Human Rights on September 3, 2011 by uvinduk Tagged: , , , ,


IATR attack and TNA attack  

By Uvindu Kurukulasuriya

“that the refusal of the government to appoint a Presidential Commission to inquire into the seven deaths and the conduct of the Police which led to those deaths, was a prime cause of the demand for a separate state.”   Leader of the Opposition  Appapillai  Amirthalingam – before the Sansoni Commission

Just two weeks ago on June 16, A group of Tamil parliamentarians from Sri Lanka’s largest Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) who had gathered to discuss their political campaign for the up coming local elections was attacked by army personnel.

The TNA political planning meeting was being held in a village called Alaveddy outside the city of Jaffna when some 15-20 uniformed army personnel wielding poles, batons and rods entered the Saiva Maha Sabhai hall premises at Alaveddy and assaulted those present at the meeting. Government spokespersons have argued that the meeting was unauthorized. The TNA has pointed out that it was not a public meeting and hence did not require the approval of the Police.

Meaningless probes

According to the State controlled Daily News newspaper, the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, four days after incident had ordered a probe and necessary action against the attackers.
Let me focus on four points. First, from past experience it is hard to believe that the culprits will be brought to justice. It is two weeks since the incident took place and so far no one has been arrested. People are yet to be informed of the outcome of the promised investigation. That is the Sri Lankan experience.
The culture of impunity has continued to grow in Sri Lanka with no accountability. Impunity continues to be the norm regarding any form of human rights violation in Sri Lanka. Last month, Lanka Independent exposed the mindset behind this kind of repression. We explained what happened to a commission of inquiry appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Attack at the Tamil Research Conference of 1974

Secondly, the argument put forward by the government that the meeting was unauthorized despite the fact the TNA pointing out that the meeting was private and thus such authorisation was unnecessary.
It is vital to note that Tamils have been experiencing state violence even when their meetings were authorized and even before a section of Tamil nationalistic politicians started to use terrorism as a counter terrorism method. Even if one were to put aside for a moment the military attack on the successful mass Satyagraha campaign launched by the Tamil Federal Party in 1961 in response to Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s decision to implement the Sinhala Only Act in the Northern and Eastern Provinces or the communal violence of 1956, 1958 and 1961, one of the best examples of state deployment of military force against Tamils was the International Association of Tamil Research Conference (IATR) incident of 10 January 1974.
The research forum series was launched by Fr. X. Thaninayagam, who was an eminent Tamil scholar. The first conference was held in 1966 in Kuala Lumpur and opened by Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahuman. It had been supported generously by the Malaysian government. The 1974 conference was initially expected to be held in Colombo but the organizers decided to shift it to Jaffna.
The scholarly conference was held in Veerasingham Hall from 3rd to 9th January. There was a popular demand to hear the foreign delegates and this public event was fixed for the evening of the 10th. The police permit to have the meeting, which ended on the 9th, was extended to the 10th on a gentlemen’s understanding between ASP Chandrasekera and Dr. Mahadeva, the chief conference organiser. The meeting started late at 8.00 pm and the chairman, Dr. Vithyananthan, thanked the Police for their cooperation. The first speaker, Prof. Naina Mohamed from South India, held the audience spell-bound. A little later, to everyone’s surprise a police party in riot gear started moving into the crowd westwards towards Veerasingham hall from the Clock Tower side, assaulting and roughly ordering the crowd to move aside. Pandemonium broke loose and seven civilians died of electrocution when a power line came down. (The Arrogance of Power by Rajan Hoole – page 17)
The government of the day could have cleared up the matter immediately by appointing a Commission to go into it. But the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike was so paranoid that it declined to do so.

An unofficial citizens’ commission inquiry

Thirdly, what Tamils should now do on the 2011 attack on the TNA meeting is to appoint an unofficial citizens’ commission as they did in the 1974 attack on the above Tamil Research Conference. At that time once the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike rejected the request for a commission of inquiry, some in Jaffna had the presence of mind to appoint an unofficial citizens’ commission comprising retired supreme court judges O.L. de Kretzer and V. Manickavasagar, along with Bishop Kulandran. Fortunately Rajan Hoole found a copy of the de Kretzer Commission Report and in his book “The Arrogance of Power” gives us an in-depth analysis of the incident and its aftermath. Following the communal violence of August/September 1977, Jayewardene (then prime minister) appointed a retired Chief Justice, M.C Sansoni to a one-man commission of inquiry. TULF leader and then the Leader of the opposition Appapillai Amirthalingam had testified before Sansoni “that the refusal of the government to appoint a Presidential Commission to inquire into the seven deaths and the conduct of the Police which led to those deaths, was a prime cause of the demand for a separate state.”

Tamil nationalist version of history

There is a Tamil nationalist version of history. To the Tamil nationalists, the police action at the Tamil Research Conference which resulted in 7 deaths became the ultimate expression of the malignancy of the State which led to the adoption in May 1976 of the goal of separation as the only viable option for the Tamil speaking people.
The Tamil United Front (TUF) included the Tamil Congress and Ceylon Workers’ Congress on 14th May 1972. The TUF became the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) on 14th May 1976 after adopting the policy of separation from Sri Lanka. The LTTE too was formed in 1976, and advocated the creation of a separate state for the minority Tamil population in the North and East of the country.
The LTTE used terrorism as a tool of their politics. At the end the government won the war and declared that they had achieved peace. However after the TNA was attacked even one of Rajapaksa’s ardent supporters and theoreticians, professor Sumanasiri Liyanage had this to say, “While the war was going on, people were made to believe that the violations of democratic and human rights were part and parcel of the war situation and everything would be hunky-dory after the war came to an end. War came to an end in May 2009, but the pre-war situation characterized by the violation of democratic rights remains essentially unchanged. The ruling party politicians are now trying to dupe people into believing that this exceptional situation should prevail without any significant change for some time as the new task, namely, economic development, calls for its continuation. This hypothesis raises many theoretical and practical issues.”
Fourthly, the government boasts that they have appointed a Lessens Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. But the continuous attack on Tamils shows that the Sri Lankan government has not learnt a lesson.
From the point of the whole country, for the sake of future generations, the need for national reconciliation and the prevention of communal violence again, it is important not to view Tamil politics in isolation, but rather to understand how it developed due to its engagement with the obduracy and blindness of the Southern polity.

read it full

First published – 1 July 2011


2 Responses to “Attacking Tamils continues – No lesson learnt”

  1. “From the point of the whole country, for the sake of future generations, the need for national reconciliation and the prevention of communal violence again, it is important not to view Tamil politics in isolation, but rather to understand how it developed due to its engagement with the obduracy and blindness of the Southern polity.”

    Good point.

  2. Interesting angle.

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