‘It is imperative to keep the focus on their right to self-determination’
Any problem has to be first understood and defined in clear terms, if it is to be resolved. The problem in Sri Lanka is that a people who have been subjugated are demanding freedom and their liberation struggle is being crushed with ruthless force. There is not only a historical basis for their struggle, but the demand for a separate Tamil nation is strengthened by the continued oppression of the Tamils in modern Sri Lanka from the time political power changed hands from the British to the Sinhalese in 1948.
Since then, the Tamils living in their historic homeland in northern and eastern parts of present day Sri Lanka have been treated as second-class citizens. After trying in vain to obtain equal rights within a united Sri Lanka, the democratically elected Tamil political class declared in 1976 at Vaddukoddai that the “restoration and reconstitution of the free, sovereign, secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam” was inevitable.
Tamil militancy took over in the 1980s and lasted till May 2009, when Sri Lankan forces wrested the last inch of territory under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In the last phase of the civil war, over one lakh Tamil civilians are estimated to have been killed.
There is no unity among parties fighting for the Eelam cause in Tamil Nadu; so, evolving a common agenda is important
Sri Lanka is now a totalitarian regime under President Mahinda Rajapaksa, where all institutions of governance are crumbling, and even the country’s majority community is being denied its democratic rights.
The plight of Tamils has worsened. In this situation, it is imperative to keep the focus on their right to self-determination, as all other efforts to find a settlement within a united Sri Lanka has failed miserably. Far from any signs of devolution of powers to the Tamil provinces, there are clear indications that Colombo is sliding to a dictatorship.
The demand for an UN-supervised referendum on Eelam or a separate Tamil State has never seemed more justified than now. It is important to seize the opportunity and mobilize support for the cause at the international level on an urgent basis. All other campaigns, including the demand for an international inquiry into Sri Lanka’s war crimes, and the mobilizing of support for the upcoming US sponsored UNHRC resolution, though necessary, should not be allowed to slacken the efforts to initiate an UN referendum.
Equal importance has to be accorded to the welfare of the displaced Tamils in Sri Lanka, whose rehabilitation has to be closely monitored and efforts made to bring it under international scrutiny.
Animosity with the Sinhalese public should be avoided at all cost and the ground should be built for peaceful co-existence of the Tamil State with its neighboring Sinhalese State.
The Role of Indian Tamils
Broadly, the organizations and political parties which work for Sri Lankan Tamils’ right to self-determination outside Sri Lanka can be divided into two categories – the Sri Lankan Diaspora Tamils and Indian Tamils.
While at present various political parties and groups in Tamil Nadu have come forward to take up the cause of the Eelam Tamils, which is a strong point, the weak point is the lack of unity among them. To attempt to bring together these groups, which include political parties and non-political groups, would be a difficult task. It would be more pragmatic to lay out a broad agenda and appeal to the parties to prioritize the issues highlighted in the agenda in their independent campaigns.
The ‘Agenda’ given below is merely a list of suggestions meant to invoke some fresh thoughts on the issue being dealt with, and meant to complement the ongoing efforts to secure the self-determination rights of the Sri Lankan Tamils:
Political parties and other groups in Tamil Nadu need to interact with political parties outside Tamil Nadu, both regional and national, and secure their support for Eelam. If the parties can mobilize the support of some hundred registered political parties – never mind if they are ‘unrecognized’ - it will be possible to defeat the argument that the Eelam issue does not have an appeal beyond the geographical boundary of Tamil Nadu and that it does not affect the rest of India. It will go a long way in strengthening the international campaign for the right to self-determination of the Sri Lankan Tamils.
Declaration of support can be obtained from elected local body representatives, and from both present and former MLAs and MPs. Their support could be translated into tangible form by compiling the details of number of elected representatives supporting Eelam across India.
Separate teams can be formed within the parties and groups working for the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils to monitor the situation in Sri Lanka and to quickly respond to developments affecting Tamil interests. Such teams, if they had already existed, would have got into action the moment news about Rajapaksa’s forthcoming visit to Bodhgaya was out in the media. Even exhorting the cadres of parties to send emails to the Chief Minister of Bihar to intervene and stop Rajapaksa from visiting the State would have had an impact. Young, computer savvy people proficient in English and Tamil need to be roped in and deployed for the task.
Strategic alliances and friendly relations need to be built with likeminded parties and groups in each of the States of India, so that on occasions like the forthcoming visit of Rajapaksa or similar events in the future, the partners would mobilize public opinion in their respective areas for the issue at hand.
Tamil groups need to harness the power of internet, especially the social media networks, and hire professional agencies if necessary for disseminating information and creating favourable public opinion.
Since cricket is a popular sport across India, a campaign to stop the Indian cricket team from playing against Sri Lanka or inviting its players to play in the IPL League will be successful in creating awareness on the Tamils issue among the Indian public. South Africa’s isolation in the sports arena played a crucial role in the fight against apartheid in the last century. Political parties need to shed their inhibition on this issue and try to obtain maximum mileage from the campaign.
Formation of a coordination committee between likeminded parties and establishment of a full-fledged coordination secretariat to carry out the above mentioned responsibilities could be considered.
(The above extract is from a paper presented by P C Vinoj Kumar, Editor, The Weekend Leader, at a seminar organized by Makkal Nalvazhvu Iyakkam at Loyola College, Chennai, on 3 February 2013)