It is over seven years since the horrendous terrorist conflict that went on for a near three decades ended and the Tamil community that faced the ravages of the war – death of those near and dear, destruction of their property including the roofs over their heads and all their possessions – have been remarkably quiescent in their suffering in the post conflict period.
Last week they came out en masse under the slogan ‘Eluga Thamil’ in a rally organized by the Tamil Peoples’ Council (TPC), headed by the Chief Minister of the Northern Province, C. V. Wigneswaran, to air their grievances and make demands. The TPC is a splinter group of the main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), led by R. Sampanthan who is also the Leader of the Opposition. Reports said that leaders of all former and present constituent parties of the TNA except the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) participated in the demonstration.
It is only natural that a community that had faced the brunt of the war for long years and suffered in silence after the defeat should come out into the open and make their demands. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government was able to triumph over the Rajapaksa regime, which was considered invincible, partly because of the Tamils in the North and East as well as in other parts of the country, voting overwhelmingly for them. It should not surprise or cause alarm to any government leader if they are called upon by Tamils known or unknown to fulfill their election pledges.
Reports said that the demands made from the government were democratic and reasonable. The main demand was for a political solution to the ethnic problem. Other demands were: Amalgamation of the Northern and Eastern provinces as a single administrative unit; release of Tamil political prisoners who had been detained for many years under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), release of lands taken over by security forces during the war to their rightful owners and an end to construction of Buddhist Temples and statues in places where Buddhists do not live. The government had positively responded in various ways to most of these demands.
A demand made for removal of all security forces from the North and East however will not be possible in the immediate future but reductions could be made over a period of time with the easing of the situation. Of course security forces cannot remain in the North and East forever.
Land taken over by the security forces too have been handed back to the owners and where it is not possible for security needs, fair and immediate payment of compensation is called for.
The demand for release of prisoners for long years without trial is a blot not only on the country’s judicial system but on entire democratic Sri Lanka.
It is unfortunate that the demands made have resulted in the typical knee-jerk reaction similar to responses to such requests or demands made in times before terrorism began to gather momentum.
Nimal Siripala de Silva, Senior Vice President of the SLFP and Cabinet Minister had taken objections to some of the demands made by C. V. Wigneswaran and called upon him to withdraw the statements made. Wigneswaran, de Silva had said, had overstepped his mandate as Chief Minister to incite ethnic tensions and thus empower extremists in the north and south.
This is certainly the wrong way to go about bringing reconciliation among Sinhalese and Tamils. What Wigneswaran and others have said should be studied in earnest and considered in further deliberations. They are sentiments that have been bottled up for years and needs to be vented for consideration. All of it need not be implemented.
Minister de Silva probably fears Sinhala extremists of the South exploiting these demands as demands made by LTTE terrorists for a separate state. No doubt extremists will attempt to do so and it is a challenge for Sinhala politicians like de Silva to challenge these extremists and prove them wrong to the public.
This country has been going down the slippery rope because rabid communalists under the guise of patriots and even elder statesmen have been blackmailing governments with threats of communal backlashes. The tail has been wagging the dog for long and if this continues we will be having another ‘Suriya Theivam’ holding a gun at our heads.
There are many proposals being made to bring about reconciliation and amity between the two races. Whatever the laws available they have to be implemented by political leaders and if political leaders do not have the guts and commitment to put their beliefs into practice, all legislation written for the purpose will not be worth the paper it is printed on.
Power hungry politicians are on the rampage trying to exploit racism and use it as the trump card for their victory. Such despicable characters have been with us and will be there in the future. The future of the country will be with those decent politicians – who always outnumber scoundrels – who do what they think is right.