Naked Power, Suppressed Dissent, a New Innings

| by S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole
Flight of Reason, Wisdom

( January 20, 2012, Washington DC, Sri Lanka Guardian) Reason and wisdom fled the President as he purported to sack the CJ on a finding that has no standing in law. Resistance weakened as the state used thugs and every sinew to taunt, threaten and slander dissidents.

 

 

Ratnajeevan Hoole writes:

“When a new editor took over at the Sunday Leader after Frederica Jansz was fired and I was invited in November 2012 to write a weekly column, I imposed the condition that I be allowed to “have a free hand to be critical (I am concerned about issues raised by Frederica).” The editor responded “Yes, you will have the freedom. I am aware of the readership of the Leader what we need to cater to.”

I went along when anything I wrote about Gotabaya was cut because I was told that there was a court order. But this week my reference to Frederica Jansz’s Al Jazeera interview and her Sunday Leader story in 2011 about China giving Rajapaksa US $9 mn without restrictions was cut. There surely is no court order about it.

I do not wish to stir things up because I see the editorial team at the The Sunday Leader trying to cater to their readership while trying to find the boundaries of what they are allowed to say. It would seem that they have little room to manoeuvre. At this point I still remain sympathetic to what they are trying to achieve as they try to figure out what the limits of their freedom are. The fact however is that while there is room to comment on the policies of the government, there is really no freedom to comment on the first family’s numerous personal shenanigans and the terrible things they are doing to the country and to us.

The value of writing under these constraints, projecting an image of press freedom where it is highly restricted, is something that both the editors of the Sunday Leader and I need to assess.

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Bowing before naked power, the BASL promised to work with the purported CJ. In a sop to its grandiose pronouncements on boycotting an illegal appointee, BASL promised to skip the appointee’s ceremonial induction! After declaring the process illegal, how can the BASL work with an unlawful CJ? As The Island explained, “The BASL will have to cooperate with the new Chief Justice as official work of the Judiciary will have to continue independently.” The BASL’s copout had marked similarities to FUTA’s over the 6% GDP demand for higher education.

 

Presidential power does wonders. A woman close to me was in an INGO when the tsunami struck. Being the senior-most person on site – the foreign managers were away for Christmas – she was asked to give the left over budget of $2 mn for tsunami victim relief. She personally delivered the cheque at the Prime Minister’s office. The money ended up in the Hambantota fund. By the time questions were raised, Rajapaksa was President and NGOs were being threatened. Her organization, having to work with the President to remain in Sri Lanka, confirmed that the funds were indeed for Hambantota.

Individuals cannot stand up when INGOs will not.

 

Posturing on Genocide

 

BASL and FUTA dashing hopes reminds one of Tamil excitement over international intervention over war crimes as the only means of political liberation. The Human Rights Council met twice raising hopes; but the first time there was praise for the government and the second time an inane watered down resolution. The US reassessment of GSP-Plus also came and went without action. The CJ matter has diverted attention from next March’s meetings.

 

Obama’s promise in Jan. 2009 through Susan Rice “to challenge the international community so that we see no more Rwandas, and no more Darfurs, and God forbid, what may come in the future,” was believed by many. Prabhakaran by Feb. 2009 was calling his US contacts to ask if Hillary Clinton would save the Tigers. But Mullivaikal came and neither God nor Obama forbade the slaughter.

 

Such speeches without action have given confidence to the Rajapaksas that they are safe from the West so long as they keep markets free. However Tamils pin hopes on the government’s rogue-elephant behaviour riling the West and India so much that the West with India will act on their pronouncements for a change.

 

India’s Jaffna Consul V. Mahalingam, like Chamberlain towards Hitler, claimed this week that India is working quietly to get the university students released even as he seemed to concede Sri Lanka is stalling on the harbor, airport and housing for war victims projects to sabotage Tamil relations across the Straits. (The university is open but students are not attending.)

 

Frederica Jansz’s timely interview on Al Jazeera this week was a reminder to the US on the parlous state of press freedom in Sri Lanka, and to India about China’s unrestricted donation of US$9mn to the President and a further gift to his son (Leader 17.07.2011). Surely these gifts were for something.

 

JICA Facility Idling

 

In the meantime government has a free hand to dispense with minorities as it wishes and to feed the President’s vanity. Thus the modern Rs. 2,900 mn facilities at Jaffna Hospital by Japan’s JICA for the people of Jaffna – not the President – and completed in October, is idling for Rajapaksa to open it on Pongal day as Douglas’ invitee in a vainglorious circus. He ultimately decided not to come and the costly facility continues unused. The doctors struggle without facilities and are under pressure for the allegedly high death rates. The people may lose the services of 10 specialists who returned from the UK to serve and are subject to army harassment, assaults and anonymous threats.

 

Hassan Ali: Minorities in Sri Lanka

 

The silver lining is Hassan Ali, Secretary of the SLMC who did not vote for the impeachment despite being in government. He is outspokenly critical about the SLMC collaborating in Rajapaksa’s grab for untrammeled power and voting for the eighteenth amendment in return for promises never fulfilled since. SLMC Ministers in the Eastern PC have no power, he complains. Collaboration, he says, reduces collaborators to nothing, putting the Minister of Justice in Douglas’ situation – the President’s footstool.

 

When Ali’s son immigrated to the US, Ali was asked why. His answer: “There is no room for minorities in Sri Lanka.” When a powerful government man’s son has no future, what of ordinary Tamils?

 

Mano Ganeshan’s Analysis

 

Tamils are indeed vanishing as shown by Mano Ganeshan using recent census figures. I had estimated that Ceylon Tamils might be down to 6-8% from the pre-independence figure of 11% because of army and Tiger excesses and the fighting, and that Muslims might be (or soon be) the second largest ethnic group. I expected the census to provide proof of genocide. But when the figures came, they contradicted reasoned expectations: Sinhalese 15,173,800 (74.9%), SL Tamils 2,270,900 (11.2%), Muslims 1,869,800 (9.2%) and Indian Tamils 842,300 (4.1%) for a grand total of 20,263,000.

 

That SL Tamils – relatively educated with low birth rates and mass migrating – remain above the 11% at independence is astounding. Thanks to Mano Ganeshan’s research we know that a fast one was pulled in the census – officials considered only Tamils living in plantations as Indian Tamils. From the astronomical growth in SL Tamils and the incredibly low growth in Indian Tamils from 1981 (by when the effects of Srimavo-Shastri repatriation were over), Ganeshan concludes that a large number of Indian Tamils have reclassified themselves as SL Tamils, and if not for this the Muslims would be the second largest community. Most Indian Tamils living in the big cities and North-East had also reclassified themselves, some as Sinhalese.

 

Tamils are doing so badly that Education Ministry figures show the North-East accounting for 50% of school dropouts:  of 1,26,000 students who dropped out of school in 2011, the highest are from the North (38,321 or 30.4%) and the East (24,614 or 19.5%).

Commission of Peace and Justice
Explaining Tamil evisceration is the well thought out memorandum of the Commission for Justice & Peace of Jaffna’s Catholic Diocese to their Bishops’ Conference, declaring that the actions of the Government and the Security Forces are alienating the people and making them lose confidence in a peaceful and just Sri Lanka. 

They highlight the occupation of lands by the security forces, allocation of northern lands to Sinhalese funded by the state, continuing plight of political prisoners (naming the women Thirumakal in detention without charge for 18 years and Kathaye detained in 1994 and deceased in prison recently without medical care, and Nirmalaruban and Dilruckson who were tortured and killed), accountability over missing civilians estimated by Bishop Rayappu Joseph as numbering 146,000, and the fate of those who surrendered and went missing including Fr. Francis Joseph (81), the former Rector of St. Patrick’s College.

They list continuing humiliation in the ban on any function for those killed in the war, about 1000 Tamils being put under surveillance (eventually to be arrested and “rehabilitated”), the recruitment of Tamil women to the army by chicanery, the appointment of soldiers to teach Sinhalese to Tamil children who have no English, maths or even Tamil language teachers. Terrifying is the army’s requirement that parish priests submit a “year plan” for 2013 listing all functions and liturgical celebrations, and school principals obtain permission for any function however small.

As Tamils struggle to put life back together, diaspora sections are stirring the pot, wanting MP Sritharan (who like Sivajilingam is being subject to searches) to take over the TNA, and character assassinating MPs Sampanthan and Sumanthiran. Those abroad making no sacrifices must not presume to judge the TNA or BASL or FUTA who are on the ground. These brave souls keep battling, and documenting government’s criminality. Dissidents may retreat. But history shows that their resolve will strengthen with time. A new innings will begin.



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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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