In early January, the Sri Lankan government announced a “great victory” in its military offensive in the northern part of the country, after its army “captured” some strategic points such as the town of Kilinochchi which had been used by the LTTE as its headquarters, and the Elephant Pass connecting the Jaffna peninsula to the rest of the island. The fact that this “victory” was won at the cost of the suffering of tens of thousands of ordinary civilians who live in the northern region was downplayed in the gloating pronouncements of the government officials. The government of Rajapakse does not deny that these people are in dire straits, with little access to food, without basic necessities and medical facilities, as the fierce warfare rages around them. Among the kinds of weaponry that the Sri Lankan Army has hurled against them are barbaric cluster bombs, designed to cause maximum damage. But the casualties are being blamed by the government on the LTTE which is alleged to be using these people as “human shields”.
What kind of a government can use bombs and other forms of mass warfare against its own people, and then crow about “victory”? The Rajapakse government has since February 2006 relentlessly pursued a warlike strategy against the LTTE. This current offensive with its no-holds-barred destructiveness, leading to tremendous civilian suffering, is taking place within a definite international context. After the 9/11 events of 2001, the United States has set the benchmark for the kind of ruthless warfare that can be waged against a civilian population, violating all international conventions on war. Various states that seek to eliminate their opponents have taken this as their cue, their licence, to unleash mass atrocities, as the current genocide being perpetrated by Israel in Gaza shows. The US, Britain, India and other outside powers are shedding crocodile tears about the situation in Sri Lanka, and are making mild noises about the “humanitarian crisis” and the need for a “political solution”. But these are powers that have not blinked at waging war against masses of people, in their own countries or elsewhere, and the lives and suffering of the people of northern Sri Lanka matter little to them. It is clear from their policies that they are backing the Rajapakse warhorse.
While waging its all-out military offensive, the Rajapakse government insists that it is interested in finding a political solution to the long drawn out crisis in Sri Lanka. But it argues that the physical destruction of the LTTE is the essential precondition for a political solution. The physical destruction of the LTTE is sought to be achieved through the physical decimation of the population as well as infrastructure of the northern region, where a majority of the Tamil population lives. What kind of a solution to the Tamil problem can emerge out of the ruins of the homeland of the Tamil population of Sri Lanka, especially when it is the policy of sustained neglect and discrimination that led to the civil war in the first place?
As a people with very ancient roots in Sri Lanka, the Tamil people have as much right to live in Sri Lanka as the Sinhala, Muslim, Burgher and other communities there. The present crisis has its roots in an extremely complicated situation caused by the divisive and chauvinist politics of successive rulers of Sri Lanka, starting with the British colonialists and continued by various political forces after them. This has left a legacy of lasting bitterness and suspicion towards the present political arrangement in Sri Lanka. A new political arrangement must be found. But the precise framework under which all the different communities of Sri Lanka can live together peacefully and productively must be worked out through political initiatives involving all the peoples concerned, and cannot be thrust down the throats of any of them. But that is precisely what the Rajapakse government, in a highly retrogressive move, is trying to do. It has made it very clear that the only kind of political solution that is acceptable to it would be one within the framework of the present constitution, in which all powers reside with a single central government and a single central legislature. And it means to crush by force any power, any people, that oppose this, no matter what the cost.
Even if the active military hostilities end in the near future, the people of the northern region will have to live under an army of occupation, for how long nobody knows. This army has been fed on a diet of anti-Tamil chauvinism for a long time, and it is hard to imagine that they will not let loose ferocious repression against the population at large, sooner or later. In the rest of the country, the government has already institutionalised a policy of treating Tamils as “outsiders” and requiring them to register with the police where they reside. Reports of many people being picked up and arrested and being killed or made to “disappear”, because they are of the Tamil nationality or because they have spoken out against the policies of the government, come out regularly.
People’s Voice condemns the military offensive of the Sri Lankan government and its callousness towards the conditions of the masses of people in its own country, and expresses its deepest sympathies with the plight of the people caught in a fearsome war. The Indian state should not give support of any kind to such a policy as is being pursued by the Sri Lankan government. Like most of the South Asian countries, Sri Lanka is a mosaic of peoples of different communities that have lived together for centuries. The solution to the crisis in Sri Lanka can come about only by putting an end to the politics of brute force and chauvinism, and having all the different peoples sit together and work out a new arrangement by which they can all live with peace and dignity.