'Thuglak' in Sri Lanka – Part 2
Three categories of Tamils
Our Reporters S. J. Ithaya and A. A. Samy have visited many parts of Sri Lanka during their 6-day tour and collected news by talking to a cross sections of people there. The opinions, expressed by the Tamils and newspapers in Sri Lanka on the ongoing protests in Tamil Nadu, were published in the last edition of this magazine. This edition carries the opinions of the Tamils in Colombo, Kandy and the Eastern Province.
"The moment we said that we were going to Sri Lanka, some of our relatives and friends had cautioned us by saying 'why do you visit Sri Lanka at a time trouble prevails there? why this risk?" However, the Tamil friend, who was waiting to receive us in Colombo, had encouraged us by saying "there is no risk at all here. Believe me and come".
When we reached Colombo all were moving around casually without any tension, as told by our friend. We had expected that the Indian Tamils arriving at the Colombo airport would be subject to special checking and investigations since demonstrations were going on in Tamil Nadu but we were surprised that no such checking were done at the airport.
Since it was an Easter vigil night, churches on the way were decorated and arrangements for night services at the Beach were going on. Our Tamil friend told us "the problem is that, many people in Tamil Nadu act on hearsay only without understanding Sri Lanka fully. They always think that Buddhists means Sinhalese. It is one of the issues. However 10% of the Sinhalese are Roman Catholic Christians. The people in Tamil Nadu get confused totally on Tamil racism and Buddhists religious extremisms.
"Buddhist religious extremism prevails among few people here. An organization called "Bodu Bala Sena" acts in such a way to provoke the Buddhist extremism in recent times. All the parties condemn this act. Even Rajapaksa is compelled to condemn this. However, the Buddhists monks get attacked in Tamil Nadu since an impression, that Tamils are the only ones affected by Buddhism extremism in Sri Lanka, has been created in Tamil Nadu. However, not only Tamils, Sri Lanka Muslims, Sinhalese Christians too are affected by Buddhism extremism whenever it raises its head", our friend said.
We talked to many people we saw in the main road and Sea Street in Colombo. 90% of the shops belong to Tamils. The owners and the employees of the Jewelery shops and textiles Shops are Tamils only. The majority of them told "four years have lapsed since the end of the war. Peace has returned to Sri Lanka and people have started living in peace. Let Tamil Nadu not raising the "Tamil Eelam issue" once again and create chaos here", they said.
However, they all wish that Tamils should be respected equally. They also expect the Indian government to help them to that end. However, they think that the ongoing protests in Tamil Nadu will be a disturbance to their wish and expectations.
The leaders, journalists and the ordinary people we met did not view the statements and protests of the politicians in Tamil Nadu seriously. They view Karunanidhi's move of leaving the UPA and the resolution adopted by Chief Minister Jayalalitha at the Assembly as the "politics of Tamil Nadu". They have mentioned only the students' protest with respect. They have said that they respect and bow their heads to the students' protest. They have also said with concern that the students should ever spoil their education by holding demonstration without knowing the ground reality in Sri Lanka.
We could also see their anxiousness that the protests held in Tamil Nadu are going in vain as they are not moving towards the target which the Tamils in Sri Lanka expect.
In general, the Tamils in Colombo did not show any interest for an "independent Eelam" even during the war time. A Jewelry shop owner told us, "first of all, let the people in Tamil Nadu understand the meaning for the word "Sri Lanka Tamils". We have Indian-origin Tamils and Tamil-speaking Muslims here. Even among the Indian origin Tamils, the Up-Country Tamils in plantation areas live as a separate unit. They don't have any links with Eelam. They are not Eelam Tamils.
Only the Tamils, living in the North and Eastern Provinces in Sri Lanka, are Eelam Tamils. We are also Sri Lanka citizens only. However, our race is mentioned as "India-Tamil" in all the certificates issued by the government. Only the Tamils living in the North and Eastern Provinces are mentioned as "Lanka-Tamil" in the government-issued certificates.
"The Eelam Tamils have a mentality that they are superior to others. They don't have high regards for the Indian-origin Tamils. They get angry even on the Eelam Tamils who come to Colombo to do business here. When the LTTE had devised boundaries for Tamil Eelam, they gave just a 24-hour deadline to around 8000 Muslim Tamil families and made them to leave the Northern Province. No one can either forgot or hide the Tamil Muslim families' distress of leaving the North Province with women and children by taking their belongings in mere polythene bags. That is why the Indian-Origin Tamils, Muslim Tamils and the Up-Country Tamils weren't supporting the Eelam struggle from the moment it begun" Jewelry shop owner said.
When we talked to the Tamil customers, who came to "Saravana Stores" in Kathiresan Street, majority of them said "we were not treated equal". They have also mentioned that they will be very happy if India and Tamil Nadu takes steps to get equal rights for them. However, they have very clearly mentioned that Tamil Eelam demand is a closed chapter. They fear that the belated protests for independent Eelam held in Tamil Nadu will harm them.
A Tamil journalist has said "no violence had erupted in Colombo on the 'Independent Eelam' issue. Only the Tigers used to trigger bomb blasts and send human bombs here. Once, like the Mumbai terror attacks, armed Tigers had carried out an indiscriminate firing. As otherwise Tamils–Sinhalese clashes did not erupt in a mega scale in Colombo", he said.
When we visited Batticaloa and Kandy we were able to further confirm all the opinions stated above.
When we had a chat with a group of men and women, living in line houses at a plantation area in Kandy, they said "we never fought, demanding Eelam. Because, even if such a separate State was formed for Tamils they would not have given us a place there. The Tamils in the North were viewing us as strangers only. Even our Tamil slang is different from their Tamil slang. Even if we visit Jaffna, they spot a disrespectful look at us. However, when Tsunami had attacked those places, we had collected relief materials here and sent the same to them.
Many of them had migrated to countries like Canada, Britain and lead a posh life there. Hence many people in the North are well-to-do people only. We are the one suffering to the core. Our younger generation has given up plantation jobs and goes to the city for some other jobs. If only we get an "equal rights' kind of a solution, rather than independent Eelam, it would benefit all the Tamils in Sri Lanka" they said.
Even the Tamils in Batticaloa talked about independent Eelam without any interest. Many of them said "peace had returned to the East many years back. After we got liberated from the war, we had faced elections twice. The "independent Tamil Eelam wish", which some of the people here were having, too had melted and disappeared after witnessing the causalities in Vanni. Majority of people posses a mentality that even adequate powers through political solution is just enough for them. If only the ongoing protests in Tamil Nadu are carried out towards this angle, it will be a realistic as well as beneficial to all of us", they said.
The Eastern Province too was under the control of the LTTE in the past but the LTTE lost its strength after the ouster of Karuna from there. Hence the Eastern Province came in to SLA's control in 2007.
A Tamil, who owns a shop in Batticalo, said "the population of the Eastern Province had Tamils, Tamil Muslims and the Sinhalese in that order. Until a specific period of time, the East remained as a LTTE area only. Many Sinhalese, who were living here at that time, were chased away. Even the Tamil-speaking Muslims who did not like Eelam were also chased away and shot dead. Since the Muslims were 35% of population here, the Tigers could not chase away all the Muslims from here. The Tigers could not retain the East for a long time since Muslims were supporting the SLA then. Hence the domination of the Tigers had gone down gradually and the East was completely liberated from the LTTE in 2007" he said.
It is said that the gun firing, carried out by the Tigers on the Muslims in Kathankudi and Eravur near Batticaloa in 1990, was the one which had sabotaged the Muslims-Tamils unity. 103 Muslims were killed in the firing carried out by the LTTE at 8.10 p.m. on 3/8/1990 [Friday] simultaneously at the Mosques in Kathankudi and Eravur when prayers were going on.
We visited Kathankudi Mosque too. Though the incident had taken place 23 years back, they haven't repaired the bullet-ridden walls and left them at the same condition. The traces of bullets on the interior walls of the Mosques still remain. Mohammed Ibrahim, who was attending prayers at the Mosque on that fateful day but managed to save his life, has said, "the Tigers were angry that we did not support the Eelam. They made an attempt to chase us out in the same way they had evacuated Muslims from the North. Since we were living in specific areas in large groups they could not evacuate us easily. We had formed an 'alert team' of youth which was protecting our village from 10 pm to early morning next day. The army cadres too were protecting our areas and the army vehicles will come only to the Muslims areas to buy provisions. We were leading a scary life then. When we were doing our "Isha time prayer" (night prayer) at the mosque on that Friday, the Tigers came in a SLA attire, stood at all the entrances of the mosque, fired indiscriminately and ran away. Scores of people were injured in the firing. 78 people including my 10-year old son Ashraff were killed in the firing then", he said amidst tears.
A youngster, who was standing next to us, asked "Tamil hearts, who sympathize for child Balachandran, should sympathize for this 10-year old Ashraff too, is it not?"
M. C. M. Ameen, a bystander, said, "I was also present when this incident took place. Even if we were to go to the next village we go in groups only with army's protection. We had lived such a hell of a life then. Only now we live in peace. At that time, we and the Tamils [Hindus] were moved so closely like brothers who speak one language, Tamil. Only the LTTE came and poisoned our brotherhood. The LTTE had started assassinating Muslims and other Tamil Leaders who do not support them. Everything went upside down from the time they had burnt a Muslim family alive in 1986", he said.
The Muslims had a fear for many years even to erect a memorial stone at that mosque in memory of the victims of the firing. They had erected memorial stones to the 103 victims (78 in Kathankudi and 25 in Eravur) at the mosques only after the final war was over and peace returned in 2010.
Therefore, as far as the things we have seen during this tour, the Tamils in Colombo and Kandy never faced war at all. They did not live under LTTE's rule too. Hence, neither the remains of the war nor the pro-LTTE support are witnessed there. In the East, until a period of time, the Pro-LTTE support and the Pro-Tamil Eelam support prevailed among the Tamils there. However, due to the consequences of the war and the visit of IPKF, the pro-LTTE support had gone down gradually and the Eelam demand too had lost its strength. Even the TNA, when it contested the 2012 elections, had given up the independent Eelam demand in its election manifesto".
The experiences of our reporters who visited Northern Province, where many strong allegations like war crimes, human rights violations, barbed-wire fence camps, cells wherein captured Tigers were tortured, rehabilitation of Tamils, new Sinhala settlements, demolishing of Hindu Temples, new Buddhist temples, changing the Tamil names of the villages etc., were reported, will be published in a next edition of this Magazine
- S. J. Ithaya and A. A. Samy.
NORTH EAST PROVINCE DIVIDED
There are nine provinces in Sri Lanka in all. The Tigers had demanded Tamil Eelam by merging the North and Eastern Provinces. Following the pressure exerted by India in 1987, the then Sri Lankan President Jayawardana brought the 13th amendment in the political Constitution of Sri Lanka. A new Province called "North Eastern Province" was born through the merger of North and East Provinces. The elections too were held with the assistance of IPKF in 1988 and Varadaraja Perumal became the Chief Minister. However, once IPKF went out of Sri Lanka, "Independent Eelam" resolution was brought in the North Eastern Province. Subsequently, the Provincial government was dissolved and President's rule was imposed. The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, in its verdict on a case filed on the formation of the North Eastern Province in 2006, had stated that the Constitutional changes made were null and void. Hence the Eastern Province had gone away from the Northern Province - which had Jaffna as its capital - and blossomed as a separate Eastern Province by keeping Trincomalle as its capital as in the past. It is said that only the pro-LTTE TNA remains as an influential party among the Tamils in the North & East Provinces now [TNA is a front of five Tamils parties]. However, even the TNA could not capture power in the elections held in the East last year. Only Rajapaksa's UPLF had captured the power. Saravanabavan, MP of TNA told us, "if only we got the support of SLMC we would have captured the power but it did not happen then," he said.
The government display boards, kept in many parts of Sri Lanka like capital Colombo, Kandy, Batticaloa and Vanni, carry announcements in all the three languages i.e. English, Sinhala and Tamil. Trilingual policy is introduced up to Standard 10 in the educational institutions. Choosing Sinhala as a communicative language has been made compulsory for all the Tamil children who study English and Tamil. Likewise, choosing Tamil as a communicative language has been made compulsory for all the Sinhala students who study English and Sinhala. Likewise, Tamil government servants studying Sinhala and writing examinations and Sinhala government servants studying Tamil and writing examinations have been made compulsory. In fact they give a salary increment too to the government servants who secure good marks in these examinations. This seems to be a good plan to defuse the language fury.
© THUGLAK, 2013