Sri Lanka, Eelam Tamils and the Ethical Crime

August 18, 2011

By Karthick RM

The author is affiliated to the Delhi Tamil Students Union. He is a freelance writer and lives in Chennai.


Sound, it can be said, is relative to the silence that precedes it. Deeper the silence, louder the noise. There was indeed relative silence in the world on the Sri Lankan war and the Eelam Tamils’ struggle, a silence that benefited a fascist state the most. The ‘Killing Fields’ video [available here] of Channel 4 came with a devastating bang and exposed to the world the horror that was Sri Lanka’s ‘war on terror’. While the news was already old for Tamil activists, something that many have been writing about for long, the powerful visuals of the 48 minute documentary created shock, especially among the ruling elites of Sri Lanka.

The Lankan government went on a hyperbole in its attempts to dismiss the video as false. The army spokesperson rubbished the video as ‘propaganda’. Der Fuhrer Rajapaksa, in an interview to his Indian Goebbels, an Indian journalist who was awarded the Sri Lanka Ratna and has remained loyal to the country that gave him that honour, remarked that the video was just a “film”. His brother Gothabaya, the defence secretary, was even more forthcoming – in his characteristic chivalrous manner that the Tamils are so familiar with, he wanted to know why one of interviewed war victims was not raped by the army men even when she was “a person so attractive”. Others in the Lankan defence were also more or less gender sensitive while commenting upon allegations of rape by the Lankan forces that the video has proved.

There were some comic gestures on the part of other Sinhala politicians as well. Chandrika Kumaratunga, for one, said that after watching the video one would be ashamed to call oneself Sinhalese. We laughed. When the Lankan Army overran Jaffna in 1995 under her rule, all the atrocities that we accuse them of today were committed then, maybe on a slightly lesser intensity. If the naked story of Vanni massacre is embodied in the face of Isaipriya today, the face of brutalities under Chandrika’s regime were depicted in the stories of Koneswary and Krishanty yesterday. Rajapaksa did not jump from the skies to commit these crimes. The wheels of genocide were set against the Tamils much farther back and Chandrika was as much a spoke in it as Rajapaksa. One thing is clear after the Channel 4 video now. No one can claim innocence over what happened in 2009. It is all a matter of taking sides.

But where is the Sinhala ‘civilian’ in this debate on genocide? The following is an excerpt from a conversation I had with a Jaffna Tamil friend who was personally affected by the war about the supposed progress of ‘reconciliation’ between the communities of Sri Lanka that Rajapaksa and his PR men were boasting about.

“What do you see when you look at a Sinhala army man?” I asked her.
“A murderer and a rapist,” she said.
“Ok. What do you see when you look at a Sinhala civilian?”
“The employer of murderers and rapists.”

Further enquiries on ‘reconciliation’ were unnecessary. There are those who are largely ill-informed of the Sri Lankan situation who would lay the blame of the war on the Lankan leaders alone owing to their being “mere instruments of class rule and national oppression” and/or because they are “puppets of imperialism.” Such an argument only partially exposes Sinhala racism for it ignores the essence of fascism in Sri Lanka.

The tragedy in Mullivaikaal in 2009, the largest massacre in the history of the Tamils, was celebrated by huge numbers of Sinhala ‘civilians’ across the island country. Over 100000 Tamils were butchered in the last stages of the war and while we mourn it, remembering our loved ones, the Sinhalese participate in government celebrations. The condition in Sri Lanka bears likeness to that state of a society that Hannah Arendt so famously described as ‘the banality of evil.’ The genocide of the Tamils in their homelands was not executed by a ruling class and its military alone, it had the wilful consent of the taxpayers-citizens who stood by the state in all its violent measures. Sartre was more explicit in condemning the inactivity of the passive citizen in such societies, if one did not protest when the government that one voted for commits genocide, then one was “undoubtedly a torturer”. What else explains the absolute absence of any major anti-war demonstrations from the Sinhalese side while there have been massive outpourings of support for the jingoistic rallies celebrating victory over the Tamils? How do we account for the anti-war Socialist ideologue Siritunga Jeyasoorya receiving less than 0.36% of the total votes in the Presidential elections after the war while Rajapaksa, with his fascist diatribes, emerged with a thumping majority as a national hero?

Fascism has its roots deep in Sinhala society and the ruling class alone cannot be blamed for it. The Sinhala today is in a unique position in history like never before. He is much like the German ‘civilian’ on the dawn of Nazism, and he will be remembered by the Tamils in the future the same way a Jew today would think of the German in 1938. If the regime he voted for is drunk with power, he is inebriated with a sense of permanence. He denies that anything is wrong with the regime he supports. Even if the truth, as naked as the executed Tamil civilians shown in the C4 video, is thrown in his face, he will still stare with adoration at his national emblem and rally behind calls for unity. He is the ethical criminal who gives the power to the war criminals in the state. Then, the fascist at the top is not an aberration, he is the rule, while the likes of Viraj Mendis and Jude Fernando who live in exile for supporting the Tamils are oddities – much like what Oskar Schindler was in Nazi Germany. My friend was not off the mark when she said that she saw in the Sinhala ‘civilian’ an employer of murderers and rapists.

There is another layer that seems supposedly ‘in between’ in the whole conflict. The liberal multiculturalist, the likes of those who run ‘groundviews’ and other such outfits that use sophisticated jargon like ‘post-conflict reconciliation’, ‘coexistence’, and ‘citizen’s alternatives’ to cover what they really are – apologists of state oppression. They are indeed a spectacle – they endorse all identities provided it does not hurt the general identity of ‘Sri Lankan’, which for the Eelam Tamils means occupier of their lands. And like all multiculturalist hypocrites, their organizations and positions resolutely deny the existence of the unique Eelam Tamil identity, the identity of an oppressed people asserting which they sacrificed over 200000 lives, serving the purpose of no one but the oppressors and their ideology.

Collaborating with them are a group of Tamil intellectuals, an elite, steeped in liberalism and groomed in NGO politics. There are those who deny that there was a genuine liberation struggle led by the Tigers. There are those who say that the war on the LTTE was justified, but the government needs to give the ‘right reasons’ – as if any such reasoning would assuage the wounded sentiments of those who asserted their rights to their homeland and were thus hunted. And of course, there are those who say that let bygones be bygones. Against this academic onslaught, where does the politics of the Tamil patriots stand?

The ‘groundviews’ from Vavuniya, Kilinochi and Jaffna, the views of the Tamil natives, are this – the average Sinhala colonizer views the Tamil as a defeated person, to be pitied or to be held in contempt, if not to be trampled upon. The average Tamil views the Sinhala as a sadist who turned the other way while his army committed genocide in his name, a torturer, if not a killer. If the Sinhala colonizer’s gaze makes of the Tamil an object, it is because it is backed by an occupying army. If the Tamil’s gaze shows despair, a precursor to rage, it is because the most committed defenders of her interests, the LTTE, have only recently been militarily defeated, a defeat that the occupier flaunts in her face as the end of her genuine political aspirations. The raw material required for explosion, resentment and shared memories of persecution and injustice is prevalent throughout the territory of Eelam. And this is the truth in united Sri Lanka, no matter what its apologists like Sarvananthan and Ahilan Kadirgamar might like to portray.

Let me deploy a parallel. In colonial Algeria, there were compradors who betrayed their fellow nationals, collaborating with the occupiers, for privileged positions in the bureaucracy. Among Algerians, there were men who fattened themselves with the crumbs that colonialism threw, with the blood money of their countrymen, and could even buy luxurious villas in the occupying power’s metropolis. And there were Algerian intellectuals who sought to be more French than the French themselves, who would justify a peaceful coexistence between oppressor and oppressed, violator and violated, with colourful jargons and sophisticated prose. Did the FLN wage the Algerian independence struggle for such men? Or did they wage it for those countless men and women who saw the brutal face of French occupation and chose to assert their rights and their identity, for the martyrs of Setif and Phillippeville? I leave it to the sensitive reader to make her/his conclusions and draw appropriate parallels with the Eelam struggle and its protagonists. All I can say is that the Eelam struggle was, is, and will be waged for those Tamils who assert their legitimate right to their homeland, to be different and to secede, at the risk of sounding sentimental, for the thousands of young Tamil men and women who chose to fight and die even when they had a choice to collaborate and live, and at the risk of sounding metaphysical, for the vindication of their faith that one day there will a land called Tamil Eelam that we can call home.

So, the Tamil liberal who infests the elite circles of Colombo 7, who speaks of ‘post-war reconciliation’ or ‘citizen activism’ without addressing the fundamental political demands of the Eelam Tamils is as guilty of ethical dishonesty as his intellectual bedfellow, the Sinhala liberal who, like all liberals of oppressor nations, primarily serves his nation’s interests only. The Eelam Nation is still facing war – as even a cursory glance of Gothabaya’s recent statements would indicate. The reality of war, as Sartre observed, is always Manichean and all discourses of ‘plural identities’ and ‘multiculturalism’ is nothing short of a farce. And the intellectuals who take refuge in such arguments are as guilty of crimes as the rapists and murderers and their employers.


8 Responses to “Sri Lanka, Eelam Tamils and the Ethical Crime”

  1. Ram Mohan Says:
    December 4th, 2011 at 20:21

    I have absolutely no disagreement with all what the author has said.BUT IT IS ONLY HALF TRUTH. The author has not considered the the International Context or the “Environment” in this fast globalising World.Inspite of all what the author has said (all I agree), THE GOSL COULD NOT HAVE WON without the the aupport and active participation of the Globalised Establishments (former Imperialists and Agent Imperialists united under the UN)particularly those 30+ countries in Coalition with GOSL.

    I agree that the Eelam struggle will continue and the Eelam Tamils will rise again and one could already see the beginnings. BUT IT WILL BE A FAILURE AGAIN IF there is no favourable International Climate. It is the DUTY of the Diaspora, the author and Tamilnadu Tamils to start building up such International Climate from today itself instead of giving prescriptions or even claiming to lead the Eelam Tamils.

    We all should learn to do what we can and should.

  2. bahu Says:
    December 4th, 2011 at 23:08

    in presidential election almost all Tamils, Muslims,and Christians voted for the general and he got 45% or more.i stood for Tamil liberation. even Tamils did not for me or Siritunge. does that mean Tamils are also sinhala fascists? do not be ridicules. there are sinhala fascists. but they are on the run as far as i could see.

  3. Canaga Says:
    December 5th, 2011 at 02:44

    Well written article. There is no alternative but devolution and eventually Eelam.
    During the Federal Party struggle – a very peaceful struggle, The Tamils were also killed in large numbers, eventually a very peaceful person – SJV Chelva….. had to give up and felt Eelam was the only solution. The LTTE and others were formed during this latter stages.
    Where I disagree to some extent, with the comments above, is that the average country Sinhalese is very decent person, but over time has been ‘brain washed’ by racial politics by both major parties as the only way to gain power. The result that we see today.
    While the Dutch and the Portugese maintained the separate states as it was when they conquered, the ‘bl….y’ British gave a unitary system of government at the time of independence, while in Britain it was a federal system of government. Sir Ivor Jennings with the Ramanathans and others agreeing on a unitary constitutional system to which we are suffering now.
    Whatever said, I feel SWRD Bandara……. would have eventually devolved the power to a near federal system – in which he believed and has written articles.
    The Indian government’s support was the biggest help to the Rajapakshes to win this war. India has also made it easy for the Chinese to surround them – the next fight for them will be the Andaman Islands and the NorthEast frontier – where it has already begun.

  4. Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah Says:
    December 5th, 2011 at 13:01

    Thank you.

    “… day there will a land called Tamil Eelam that we can call home.” As an activist living and breathing this dream, it is music to my ears. Karthick I hope it will happen in your life time if not mine.

    What you have written is so true.

    The masterminds and the perpetrators will one day have to pay the price.

    Those cheering but seemingly delirious Sinhala masses who are on a high and don’t know what their rulers are doing to them will hopefully have their awakening.

    What can I say about the Tamils who watched, yes, but helplessly, they would have had too much to lose – their peace and even their lives.

    To think that other nations conspired or turned a blind eye to this worst known mass killing of the century and have done nothing to bring the killers to book is a tragedy in itself.


  5. Mango Says:
    January 4th, 2012 at 13:23

    Karthick is talking absolute rubbish as always. He’s still trying to figure out how to get Eelam. All of you Eelamists are going to be in for a long and bitter disappointment. If Fatty Prabha couldn’t manage it with the hugely impressive military force he managed to create, how will you achieve Eelam? Facebook Eelam Heroes?

    Listen to this super-smart European Eelamist who’ll be with you all until the bitter end:

    What we know to be 100% true is that all of your fighters died for nothing and there’s nothing quite so sad and dispiriting as dying for nothing.

  6. Karthick RM Says:
    January 24th, 2012 at 14:09


    Your efforts truly are laudable. But also concretely consider the impact it has created and why so.

    I referred to ‘banality of evil’ for very specific reasons – that condition has adverse consequences for those at the receiving end of evil as well.

    You do know well what sort of a farce elections in Tamil homelands are and percentages mean nothing.

    I seriously dont see Rajapaksa’s power ‘on the run’ for now.

    A reference to the prophetic words of V. Prabhakaran in 2008.

    “When it comes to the Tamil national question, the Sinhala nation is adopting only one policy. It is obviously a policy of suppression. Even the tinge of hope our people had that the Sinhala nation will abandon its path of violence and offer justice, has now evaporated. No political transformation has taken place during the last sixty years in the Sinhala nation. Therefore, hoping it will happen in the future is futile. Our people are not ready to trust Sinhala nation again and get cheated.”

    Usha and Canaga, Thank you. You can refer to the LTTE leader’s words too for the clearest exposition on the condition in Sri Lankan society.

    Ram Mohan, Very true. SL could have never defeated the Eelam Tamil’s struggle by their own. I hope you still remember the way Sinhala soldiers dropped their guns, vehicles and in some cases even their uniforms (!) and deserted by the thousands in Unceasing Waves III.

    LTTE was defeated only because of the global alignment of forces and the current dominant military-bureaucratic-corporate complex among the establishments that favored Sri Lanka.

    But the purpose of this article was not to analyse that, but only specific conditions in Sri Lankan society. I have refered to those in other articles of mine on the same site.

    Thank you.

  7. Oppressed Says:
    January 27th, 2012 at 12:51

    Does the writer of the article think that reconciliation and citizen activism are unnecessary? Then what is the way forward?

    I think these kinds of arguments offer only one solution to Eelam Tamils: Take up arms again. We, as a community, have faced disaster after disaster for the last 30 years. The Tamils are no longer in a mentality to view armed struggle as the path to their freedom. Even if the diaspora and Tamil nationalists in India want it, Eelam Tamils should not succumb to this ideology. If Tamil nadu activists want to help Eelam Tamils, first of all they should reject both DMK and ADMK, and strengthen Tamil politicians who are concerned about Eelam Tamils. Why did the people in Tamil Nadu vote for DMK and Congress when there was a genocide taking place in SL? Does it mean they have also approved of the genocide the same way the Sinhalese approved of it? Please don’t ask us to do the impossible from your safer havens.

    The next option those who do not like reconciliation advocate is to get the support of the international community. The international community shows no interest in liberating the Tamils in SL. They, including India and the USA, want the Tamil National Alliance to accept the 13th amendment or less than that. None of these international actors is interested in the affairs of Sri Lanka.

    If these two options are out, what is next? Living in a dream that there would be Eelam one day?? I don’t think Eelam Tamils should follow this dream-approach which is advocated by Tamil nationalist groups in Tamil Naadu and Tamil diaspora groups.These two groups are not the ones that experience the consequences of any of their dream-like approaches. They can’t understand what it means to lose one’s home and family to war. For Lankan Tamils the only option available now is reconciliation. They need to get the support of the other communities in the island to win their political aspirations. It will be a hard task. But nothing else is left for them. Tamils also need to strengthen the hands of the left in the South – Bahu and Sritunga – two names you have mentioned. Why did Tamils vote for Fonseka whereas they had better options in Bahu and Sritunga? At least Tamils should have recognised them for their strong anti-war stance. It would have sent a clear message to the Sinhalese – that Tamils don’t see the Sinhalese community as their enemy.

    The contribution of the Tamil polity to the formation of an alternative political force in the South is crucial. They have done nothing in this direction so far. They need to work towards it. Dreaming about Eelam is a luxury for Tamil Nadu activists and diaspora, not for Tamils in Eelam.

    Tamils can’t move forward without reconciliation.

  8. Karthick RM Says:
    January 27th, 2012 at 13:40

    Oppressed (?)

    You should read this

    ‘Dreaming’ about Tamil Eelam is not a luxury. Action to achieve the same is the only guarantee to check the structural and protracted genocide of the Eelam Tamils in their own homelands.

    Let those who want to be Sri Lankan citizens involve in ‘activism’ for show and tell – but let them not speak for those who do not want to be Sri Lankan citizens, but want a state of Tamil Eelam.

    As for reconciliation, taking from my friend, nothing more grotesque than to ask the Eelam Tamils to reconcile with rapists, murderers and their employers.

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