(October 21, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In those moments when prejudice and hatred in important issues cloud reason and the mind, it is the calm and unconnected voice of moderation that can take us towards the required curative path. V. Krishnadasan (“Land Reform in the North-East Not so fast“- SLG/Oct 18, 2011) offers such a voice.
I have read the writings on Lankan Tamil politics from the elder, well-read and widely-experienced Sebastian Rasalingam. Sadly, he does not appear to be interested in getting his old wound – allegedly inflicted by upper-caste Tamil society on him and his wife of recent Indian origin – cured for good. I need not preach to him history of the past, judged in a later and different times, will show many contradictions. The passage of time enables an enlightened society to correct many of its past wrongs. In support I wish to refer to the universal practice of centuries gone by to deny any form of rights to prisoners condemned of various crimes – sometimes even denying them food water and medicine. Today some of the prisons in the USA look like star hotels. People with abnormal sexual inclinations were ostracized by society – jailed and even killed in others. In the 21st century both groupings are viewed with greater understanding and humanism.
Rasalingam, in his unabating rage against the caste Tamils often appear to join hands with anti-Tamil elements to harm ALL Tamils – something for which he will find him totally isolated from the Tamil side. As Krishnarajan suggests Rasalingam certainly does not have reconciliation between the two major races in his agenda. He cannot be unaware some of his extreme writings are used by the Southern extremists to prove Tamils as unreasonable and obstinate. The conservative caste practises in the North are gradually changing. Prabakaran is not the cause but found himself at a time of history when the change was taking place. But in his approach not to differentiate between Hindus and Christians; his (VP) campaign to eradicate the dowry system he touched many chords in Lankan Tamil society across the caste divide. I believe it is almost so in the Sinhala South too.
Advantages of the possession of good land always favoured the ruling elite – during the times of the ancient kings, the time of the Colonials and other. The patriots who fought the Colonials in the Kandyan Kingdom were also trying to protect their own land and other advantages. So long as man lives there will be ruling rich or privileged and the mass of poor and under-privileged. That great and noble effort to change sprawling Soviet Russia under the inspiration of Marx’s utopian philosophy of the proletariat society controlling “all means of production and distribution” failed dismally after nearly 75 years of regimented trial. Russia was eventually found to be far behind in agriculture, industry and other forms of progress. Worse, Leonid Brezhnev was found to own a fleet of luxury vehicles and his son was indulging in illegal exporting of Caviar and Diamonds with the proceeds going outside approved Russian banking sources. The Cuban 53-year experience only sees the Cuban people so poor that working-class Jaffna Tamils from Canada going on economy holidays in Cuba come back in tears. They say the Cuban workers in the 5-star hotels are so poor they beg for soap, chocolates, clothes and small amount of money.
It is, therefore, best Sinhalese, Tamils and others – must sit down and formulate a system to live according consistent with our cultural norms – and our resources. If you will, the way we did prior to 1956.
The government should pay heed to the popular apprehension of the Tamil people in the new Land laws being processed. The Tamil political leadership has formally lodged its protest and expressed its fears that the new laws are structured more to legitimize new and suspect owners of absent land rather than help the Tamil people thrown out of their ancestral land by the war. In fairness to the TNA and the TULF, it must be said they have expressed their intention to have a dialogue on this with the government. But the problem appears to be the President is in the clutches of extremist Sinhala elements and the activist Buddhist clergy not to grant any concessions to the NEP Tamils. They appear to belief in the surreptitious theory that Tamils in the NEP can be controlled only if the Sinhalese are forced to live alongside them in equally large numbers. I cite the instance where the President came on the Indian popular NDTV and was interviewed by Shekar Gupta. In that President Rajapakse confirmed he was willing to consider the path outlined in the 13th Amendment. He is believed to have assured Delhi accordingly more than once.
While the 13th may not be acceptable to the Tamil side today, at least it is an indication Rajapakse is personally prepared to move forward. But as he sometimes tells close friends “I am a prisoner” Why and from whom?
The intrusion of the increasingly powerful armed forces into the clearly defined areas of politics and governance is also something to be worried about. The government’s actual intentions come under a cloud when it allocates in the 2012 budget the staggering sum of Rs.229,440 million for Defence and the UDA – coming under the control of the President and his brother Gothabaya. Rs.113,160 million is allocated to the Army Rs.33,690 million to the Navy and Rs.22,960 million to the Air force. Considering the war was over nearly 3 years ago the Tamil people naturally expect to see the presence of the army progressively cut down.
Apparently, the government – at least some part of it – has different ideas. On the other hand, the cause of reconciliation and peace would be served so well with only a small fraction of this staggering sum goes without saying.
There are many instances where productive agricultural and land close to the sea
are denied to the owners on grounds of their being infested with landmines – but, on the other hand, given to friends and relatives of the army and the Southern political leadership. Equally worrying is the reason why the writ of the highest Court in the land remains ignored in the matter of HSZ lands appealed for by senior Parliamentarian Mavai Senathirajah and other land owners.
There are a few corrections in Mr Krishnarajan’s piece. I am afraid it is not that the Sinhalese did not want to work with the Britishers in the plantations as a matter of protest. It is more likely they found waking at 4 am and working till dusk rather irksome. Why should they? They had a little land and were able to stave off starvation – the main daily consideration during those times.
Land Reform rather than being the work of Dr Colvin R. de Silva was more the task of Agriculture Minister Hector Kobbekaduwa, who, arguably, in his personal equation with Thondaman – not only hurt Indian Estate owners but impoverished Kandyan and other land owning families with that controversial limit of 50 acres per person.
As to if July ’83 will visit the Tamils in Colombo and the South again, I am not as optimistic as Mr Krishnadasan. With creatures like Mervin Silva still floating around unleashed; openly in control of criminal and drug gangs; the Police unable or unwilling to rein them in – per the law – I think Tamils in the South will go to sleep with the same old fears.