Let us eat our guts and pick our souls
Few questions on Meena Kandasamy’s summon for a complete Sri Lanka boycott
One has no options but to be aghast of the fact that even after 64 years of Independence and a 30-year civil war, there is negligible devolution of power to the Tamils under a rigid unitary constitution of Sri Lanka. Even after the horrendous genocide committed by the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, which claimed at least 40,000 civilians towards the closing stages of the war in 2009, the traditional homelands of Tamils are still militarised. With growing authoritarianism of the Sri Lankan government and increasing incidents of human rights abuses and excesses in the island nation, Tamils are left with no hope but memories of terror and loss.
In this situation, I understand the anguish of Ms Meena Kandasamy and her “call upon foreign governments, international movements, cultural artists, intellectuals, universities, revolutionary organisations and ordinary citizens to boycott the genocidal Sri Lankan government and suspend interaction in every possible form until this failed State delivers justice to the Tamils” in her column which appeared in Tehelka dated 5 September 2012. And her examples from history upon boycotts on South African Apartheid State and dictatorial Israel are also appreciable. But there are a few questions which also rise from her article’s maximalist hue.
Who is this International Community, which is being constantly criticised for inaction and intervention? Where were they when thousands of civilians were bombed by their own government in Sri Lanka? Will they ever book Mahinda Rajapaksa for his war crimes? How is India expected to untie from its bilateral relationship with the Sri Lankan State when its President declared in the Parliament that he performed India’s war against Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)? It is rhetoric in history that the United Nations (UN) outfits and the First World who are the so called International Community have only approached justice from their economic concerns and prerogatives. Are Cuba and Iran not enough to understand the global post colonial situation? I agree with Ms Kandasamy that Rajapaksa needs to be put on trial for his war crimes and that would bring justice to Tamils suffering under his rogue state. Then Manmohan Singh should also be booked for his crimes against his own citizens killing thousands in Kashmir and North East and Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Singh’s government has given economic, military and logistical support to the mass killings of Tamils and why not we call upon for boycott India?
The so called International Community hanged Saddam, waged a war against Talibans, captured Gaddafi alive and killed, sentenced Hosni Mubarak to death because they did not bend to the West and refused to be their economic colonies. Sri Lanka is a post colonial island and is one of the foremost countries to establish special economic zones in Asia. Historically Sri Lanka’s pro-US foreign policy during President Jayawardhane’s rule was an important reason for the then non-aligned Indian state to encourage and finance armed struggles of Tamil Youth Groups like LTTE in 1980s. India has always been a big brother to Sri Lanka and has had a direct role to play in the insurgence in the nation to defeat the LTTE to control billions worth of investments to this date. If Rajapaksa desists Sri Lanka from being an open market, the International Community would rush to intervene and may even decide to hang him, televise it and establish justice. And will that justice be just to Tamils as the ethnic strife in the island is not just a Rajapaksa phenomenon?
The political situation in Sri Lanka is a different reality. When Tamils’ rights to equal citizenship and dignity and their own lands continue to be overlooked willfully and systematically, when armed struggles for a separate nation have been defeated and Eelam has become a past, when the dissidence continues to be crushed, what is the way out? What can be done to at least minimise the humanitarian crisis and try establishing peace in the island? Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which has secured majority of Tamil votes—moderates, civil rights activists and intellectuals of Sri Lanka together demand the 13th amendment in the constitution of Sri Lanka, which will implement the Indo-Sri Lankan Pact signed in 1987. The Sri Lankan government is still denying amending the constitution as the pact proposes devolution of equal powers to provinces, merger (subject to later referendum) of the northern and eastern provinces, and official status for the Tamil language.
Our demand should be for India to try and push the Sri Lankan government to implement the Indo-Lankan Accord as its legitimate ally. India has the responsibility to ensure this minimum political solution to become feasible, which is considered as the last resort to reaffirm Tamil lives and future. A total Sri Lanka boycott as a ‘call out’ is very glamorous and sensational but ultimately will leave the working class and the underprivileged and the war-torn people hungry, but would barely affect Rajapaksa. It is not at all fair to identify the people of Sri Lanka, including its Sinhala Majority, with the Sri Lankan State’s religious zeal and racist governance.
The recent attack on pilgrims including women and children by some Tamil nationalist outfits is a shameful incident and one should understand it as a continuum of violence that has been going on for the past two years. It is the culmination of incidents like the assault on the filmmaker who was alleged to have made a film critical of Prabhakaran at Prasad Laboratories two years ago, targeted attack on pilgrims who came last year, hitting old Buddhist monks at Egmore Mahobhodi Centre, which were never condemned. These sectarian acts are not seen as solidarity by Lankan Tamils, but as staged personal image building antics by Tamil political groups.
Ms Kandasamy praises Jayalalithaa as a self-respecting leader, packing up a school football team. Are those school children, an emissary of Rajapaksa? Or how brave is it to target them? As a democratically elected government Jayalalitha, if respectful of “Tamil sentiments”, would not have murdered six Dalit protesters at Paramakudi by establishing a police state or haunt every possible measures of the previous regime such as the uniform system of school education, new assembly building, Anna library and impose Section 144 in Koodankulam. All her statements and resolutions on the Lankan Tamil issue are not lesser political stunts than that of Karunanidhi’s, who championed the TESO conference. It is a paradox that her close ally BJP has invited Rajapaksa to lay the foundation for a Buddhist university at Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh. I wonder what will be her resistance show for that event when it happens.
Tamils as a society are very tolerant and we believe in reconciliation. Diverse minorities live here in peace and security with rich understanding and relationships. And people of India and Sri Lanka share centuries of goodwill and cultural ties. State-inspired hatred and prejudice cannot be taken out on ordinary civilians and there is no end to the logic of those retributive actions. Tamils spiritually believe in the idea of yaathum oore yaavarum kelir (to us all towns are one: all are our kin) and cheap jingoism by political parties for their gains cannot be taken as “Tamil sentiments”. As someone who has worked for three years with Indian Tamil fishermen who struggle for their basic right to live in the Indo-Lankan border shores, and who faces gunshots every day by the rogue Lankan Navy, to make a participatory film ‘Sengadal’, I have only learnt human civilisation is much larger and older than borders and nation states and armies. And hate is always resolved with compassion in its due course of evolution.
The writer is a poet and an independent filmmaker