Different voices

Published : Jul 03, 2009 00:00 IST

President Mahinda Rajapaksa hoists the national flag during the celebrations held to mark the military victory over the LTTE, in Colombo on June 3.-ERANGA JAYAWARDENA/AP

President Mahinda Rajapaksa hoists the national flag during the celebrations held to mark the military victory over the LTTE, in Colombo on June 3.-ERANGA JAYAWARDENA/AP

IT was celebration time for the victors. On June 3, at the Galle Face Green in Colombo against the backdrop of the placid waters of the Indian Ocean, a colourful function was organised to mark the militarys rout of the LTTE. Contingents from all the three services marched past their supreme commander, President Rajapaksa.

For almost three hours, singers and dancers enthralled the audience. The victory rally was telecast live. Here, some excerpts from the Presidents speech, delivered in Sinhala and Tamil.

In Sinhala: I declare with great pride and dignity that I have hoisted the national flag in a single country unified under a single standard. Before me are our armed forces who astonished the world by their skill in war, discipline, efficiency and valour. It is with great expectation for the future that I address the Sri Lankan nation that is having pleasant dreams of bringing about the dawn of a great and distinguished future.

In Tamil: This is the motherland of us all. We should live in this country as the children of one mother, as brothers and sisters. There can be no differences here. The war fought against the LTTE was not a war fought against the Tamil people. Our heroic troops sacrificed their lives to save the innocent Tamil people from the clutches of the LTTE. We cannot forget the great service rendered by them. The victory we gained defeating the LTTE is a victory for our entire land. It is a great victory you obtained. It is a victory for all who live in our country. My dear heroic troops, the war against the terrorists is now over. It is now the time to win over the hearts of the Tamil people. The Tamil-speaking people should be protected. They should be able to live without fear and mistrust. That is today the responsibility of us all.

In Sinhala: Today, nearly 24,000 brave children of our land have fought for freedom and are resting forever in their motherland. Similarly, nearly 5,000 children of Sri Lanka are wholly disabled. Therefore, we cannot allow the land that was won with such great sacrifice to be divided, or even a shadow of separatism to fall on it. In the solutions that we offer there will not even be an iota of space for racism and separatism. We shall, as soon as possible, move towards our own solution of not dividing the land that is now made one, and ensuring that there will be no threat to peace in our region.

Firstly, it is necessary for us to provide all facilities that were denied to the people of the north for 30 years. There is no doubt this will be a massive development exercise, similar to the operation carried out to end the terrorism of 30 years within two and a half years.

The Tamil diaspora is in a state of denial. Here are extracts from the Opinion piece on TamilNet, a pro-LTTE website, on June 7 under the title Historic task awaits all freedom fighters:

It is heartening to see moves being discussed towards the formation of a global structure for Eezham Tamils, but how to evolve it mass orientated, how to make it responsible to the people and what is the relationship of this body to the already existing infrastructure are the questions. All freedom fighters with a record of service to the Eezham Tamil nation have a historic responsibility in this regard to come forward united in forging a neutral interim body with full commitment to execute conducting a mandate among Eezham Tamils in forming a government, even if it is going to be bereft of territory at the moment.

Fortunately the Eezham Tamil nations resources and organisational infrastructure are intact in the diaspora. But these have to be immediately transformed with unity and consensus into backing the formulation of the much-needed political structure. Any failure will only see the hijacking of the cause by the same forces that crushed Tamil nationalism militarily. Some feedbacks to our earlier columns questioned the legitimacy of the diaspora in forming a government and hinted that the future politics of Eezham Tamils will surge up from the conditions of the internment camps.

How did the rest of the world view the LTTE and its military strength?

A June 5 post on the United States-based Internet newspaper The Huffington Post, under the title Explaining Tamil Tigers, read:

The Tamil Tigers (LTTE) are considered a terrorist organisation by 32 countries. Their soldiers wore cyanide vials for consumption upon capture. They inducted child soldiers. Over 5,000 child soldiers have been reported.

According to Janes Information Group, between 1980 and 2000 the LTTE carried out 168 suicide attacks, causing heavy damage on economic and military targets.

According to the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], the LTTE has perfected the use of suicide bombers, invented the suicide belt, pioneered the use of women in suicide attacks, murdered some 4,000 people in the past two years alone, and assassinated two world leaders the only terrorist organisation to do so.

The Tamil Tigers not only created the worlds most powerful terrorist organisation the only one ever to have a full army, navy, and air force but they created a network within the 1.2 million Tamil diaspora that is almost as powerful.

The Tamil Tigers were defeated despite being far better organised than Al Qaeda. The Tigers maintain to this day an enormous war chest funded by extortion of their own people combined with drug running and the race to control it following the death of their leader has been intense. According to many experts, a significant portion is obtained through criminal activities, involving sea piracy, human smuggling, drug trafficking and gunrunning.

The Tigers are estimated to have raised $300 million annually. One man who hopes to assume the Tiger throne, K.P., is listed by Interpol as being one of the worlds most dangerous terrorists. K.P. allegedly masterminded the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India.

Euphoria and frenzy have marked the reactions of the majority Buddhist Sinhala community to the LTTEs defeat. The Sinhalese want no cap on their moment of joy. This was evident from a readers opinion which appeared in The Island, the English language newspaper, and was reproduced on the Sri Lanka Army website on June 3:

In the Sunday 24 [May] English newspapers, there were many commentators preaching to the readers that we should restrain our celebrations of the victory over the evil forces unleashed on us by a megalomaniac.

The people have put up with untold misery imposed on them by Velu. They have borne with Bodhisathwa patience the atrocities committed on them by Velu over the last 30 years. They (I mean all communities) have lost their fathers, sons, daughters to the monstrosities of Velu. Many have lost their jobs, properties and all their savings. The future prospects for the people of this country were bleak until this ogre from the mountain was completely destroyed together with his goons. This is what the President and his security forces have achieved. The sense of liberation and gratitude in the people was so overwhelming that it needed the outlet of spontaneous celebration.

A Sinhala/Tamil New Year together, with Dansals thrown in at street parties, was completely in order. It was also an instinctive expression of gratitude for the epic victory of the security forces. Why should one restrain such joy? Why cannot the people give vent to their emotions in a positive way?

It is true that many Tamils failed to join in the celebrations but probably chose to silently mourn the death of a monster. This is their democratic right. An enlighten[ed] few at Wellawatha, Jaffna, Trinco and Batticaloa did take to the streets to celebrate the passing away of the same monster. This is the future way to go. There cannot be any mental ghettoes of narrow racism in any of us anymore. The Tamils have got to take their due places in all national celebrations and as they were the most affected by Velus oppression, they had all the reason to take to the streets as their brethren in Jaffna did. One can only hope that at least in the future the Tamils will start thinking that they are Sri Lankan first and Tamils after and be wary of pushing themselves into exclusive racist cul-de-sac.

In contrast, some Tamils want the events of May to pass and hope the future will pull them out of despair. D.B.S. Jeyaraj, the Canada-based Sri Lankan journalist, posted a note on June 1 written by a Tamil named Mohan under the title Lets get together and reconcile. It said:

I write this with a lot of sadness, relief and hope, from what has happened in the past few months. As a Tamil (and proud to be one), I deeply feel that together, we can build the burnt bridges and pave a path to peace, happiness, equality and prosperity for us and for the future generations to come.

We have to let go of the past and not react to our feelings in an irrational and selfish way. We talk about the 1953 era, of the riots and how the Tamils were discriminated and treated badly. In 1953, the whole world was a different place and had a different attitude. In America, blacks could not go into a restaurant or a supermarket or attend a white school, the Aborigines in Australia did not have any rights. Now America has a black President, and the Aborigines have equal rights; we Tamils now have to give it a chance for change to happen in our motherland. We are hanging on to views and ideologies, which formed thirty years ago, which are not appropriate anymore. I think that, in the past 20 years we have created a doubt in the minds of the Sinhalese and the nation, making them wonder whether every other Tamil is a Tamil Tiger or not.

Excerpts from letters exchanged by a Sinhalese man and his grand-nephew:

Grand-nephew, I have omitted your name, because the purpose of this letter is not to embarrass or humiliate you. However, my attention has been drawn to the triumphalist and jingoist remarks that you have posted on Facebook. I do not intend to repeat them here but it is obvious that you have been swept by the chauvinist fever following the military defeat of the LTTE. I would have expected a young man of your education and intellect to exercise a more critical analysis of the events of the past few months in Sri Lanka.

Firstly, your triumphalism and jingoism does not accurately reflect the reality. Claims such as Sri Lankan Army is the Greatest in the World are obviously inaccurate. At the time the IPKF [Indian Peace Keeping Force] were ordered to leave Sri Lanka by President Premadasa, egged on by the JVP [Janatha Vimukhtu Peramuna] and some elements of the SLFP [Sri Lanka Freedom Party], they had surrounded the LTTE leadership and were about to deal a decisive defeat on the LTTE. Yet the IPKF lost just over 1,000 soldiers. If one compares other theatres of war such as Iraq and Afghanistan, the casualty rate of the Sri Lankan security forces is extremely high.

Secondly, your triumphalism fails to consider the deep-rooted problems that gave rise to armed rebellion by a section of the Tamil people. It deleted from history the anti-Tamil riots of 1977, the burning down of the most valuable libraries in Jaffna in 1981. The pogrom of 1983 which resulted in widespread attacks of Tamils all over the country and the systematic torture and disappearances that many Tamil activists were subjected to by the security forces. If we are to resolve this problem what we need today is magnanimity in victory and not triumphalism.

The grand-nephew wrote: My dear podi seeya, I posted that article on Facebook and also on some Sri Lankan facebook groups as well. More than 20 of my friends have changed their opinion which they had towards war. Im happy I was able to make a change using your article.

Amid these varied responses to the recent events in the country, two letters, which were published in The Island on June 10, convey what the future could hold for the country.

Emperors clothes for the President. With reference to your editorial of 2/6/09 under the above caption. Some cunning persons are trying to lead the President up the garden path by conferring him with various degrees and trying to make him a king.

Sri Lanka is a very small country and the Sinhalese are the majority only in Sri Lanka. So we have to be mindful to treat our Tamil brothers and sisters with respect and give them equal rights and help reconstruct their devastated homes. These acts will soften their attitude towards us. This is a long process and we have to be patient.

The Govt. TV channels are stopping the normal programmes and showing war scenes. This has gone on for months and we are sick and tired of seeing these scenes. We should follow the Middle Path. Be mindful of others and be content. V.K.B. Ramanayake, Maharagama.

Counting the dead in Sri Lankas final battle The newswires report that the U.N. Sec. Gen. has called for an inquiry into the Sri Lankan war. The disputed numbers of how many actually died seems to be the lingering issue that preoccupies the Human Rights groups and international media. But the Sri Lankan war is finally over, and counting the dead is not the most important thing. This fixation on counting the dead seems eerily linked to redeeming the loser of this war, the LTTE Dr. Mahes Ladduwahetty via e-mail.

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