Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On Balachandran Prabhakaran

A cliche to begin: if you are late in social media, you are a nobody. If you are early in research, even if not fundamentally deep, you are somebody. The point of the cliche being, I am always late: at work, at the blog, at life, yada yada, not that it matters to me, but it probably does in the grand scheme of things.

Much has been said in Tamil Nadu about the murder of the LTTE supremo's other son with widespread condemnation on the inhuman manner in which a 12-13 year old boy was murdered by the Sri Lankan army, possibly on orders from the high command at the Government of Sri Lanka. There are clearly many ways to dice and slice this scenario: from a human rights perspective, from a cold-hearted military perspective, from a realpolitik perspective, via a post-facto rationalization spree, and so on. Neither perspective can fully justify any action either way. While noone made a big fuss when pictures of Charles Anthony's bullet ridden body or that of Prabhakaran's blasted head were released by the Sri Lankan army, not much has been said about the bullet wounds to the heads of Dwaraka and Mathivathani --- the latter who happens to still have extended family in Tamil Nadu which I personally know of and hear from often enough. Not much has been said on why these two females were culpable in the orgy of crime instigated by the LTTE that necessitated their murders too. Not much has been said about the fact that Prabhakaran, Charles Anthony and Balachandran are/were all obese for their age --- a sad reflection of how a once-feared guerrilla army had come down to in its last ride to hell.

Not much has been said about the timing of this expose, coming from the stables of The Hindu and Channel 4. Was it intended to create a sympathy wave that could reflect positively on commuting the life sentence of the LTTE members who were actively involved in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case? Or was it intended to force the Government of India to vote against Sri Lanka when the UN vote comes to the picture again in mid-March? Should we expect pictures of sexually abused family members of the LTTE supremo's family in the next expose? Not much has been said about the fact that whatever may be one's opinion on this matter, the verdict as seen from the "Comments" section of The Hindu (which reflects the comments one hears in the news media in TN) is overwhelmingly clear that TN does not see this murder in a positive light. That alone is sufficient to sustain this religious fistfight between the Tamils and the Sinhalese for the next few decades.

For people directly connected to the Indian armed forces and the sad IPKF wounds of the past, none of these would of course matter. The LTTE deserved to die and anyone frontally or peripherally or tangentially associated with that entity should pay the big price for the necklace bombs and the coffins that returned from Sri Lanka. Yes, they should pay the price. But how does that square with the fact that the war in Sri Lanka is a pure religious war? How does that square with the fact that the overwhelming majority of Tamils in Sri Lanka, most of whom are still Hindus, see this as a religious war even if most of their extended Hindu neighbors in India or TN do not/cannot/will not want to see it as?

A recent report by the International Policy Digest had these facts to note:

This paper will show that the concept of Sinhalization extends well beyond the subjects of strategic state-planned settlements, land, military intrusion, boundary changes and the renaming of villages. Sinhalization has made its way into Tamil cultural events, religious life, economic activity, public sector recruitment and even the Sri Lankan education system. Since the Tamil community is attempting to recover from the devastating impact of the civil war and rebuild social networks and community structures, attempts to control and demolish socio-cultural aspects of their lives, such as the take over and destruction of temples, inhibit their attempts to engage in emotional healing and community regeneration even minimally.  
Land schemes began in earnest after Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948 with D.S. Senanayake, the Minister of Agriculture and Lands from 1931-1947, leading the way. Land located near Pattipalai, Kaluwanchchikudy, Batticaloa was renamed as "Gal Oya." At least as it relates to land, this constitutes the formal beginning of State-sponsored Sinhalization in the country's eastern province. In the post-independence era, one of the first development projects inaugurated by the Government of Sri Lanka was the development of Gal Oya Valley, a part of Gal Oya basin. At its inception, the Gal Oya project was the "largest settlement and resettlement" program that had ever been attempted in Sri Lanka. Under this project, more than 80,000 Sinhalese people settled into predominantly Tamil areas from 1949 to 1952 and Sinhalese settlement continued in the 1960s. 
The "Mahaweli plan" set the tone for the highly exclusionary development policies that continue today. Though initially designed as a thirty-year year plan, President Jayawardene announced the state's intention to "accelerate" the plan to a five-year project. The "irrigation plan" was supposed to settle over 700,000 people within six years. Two thirds of Mahaweli plan was situated in the country's North and East and sought to give the Sinhalese-dominated State the chance to take "advantage of land and water resoirces which exist in these areas." The implementation of this project did two things. First, donors benefited from the plan's economic success (the project's cost-benefit ratio was 1.57), thus enabling certain debts to be repaid. Second, and more importantly, the plan drastically altered the ethnic composition of the country's North and East, giving the Sri Lankan State more authority to arbitrarily redraw provincial and district boundary lines.
Fast forwarding to the post-LTTE era, here are some anecdotes from the pdf:
1) Since 2006, nearly 100 village names have been changed from a Tamil name to Sinhalese ones. While it is not possible to obtain more precise numbers, much of this renaming has occurred since the end of the civil war. 
2) The expansion of the military's presence in predominantly Tamil areas has done little to quell the anxieties of ethnic Tamils. Some people fear even greater military expansion in certain areas, including the building of new bases. The State's defense budget will exceed $2 billion (USD) this year, a nearly seven percent increase from the previous year. 
3) The State also recently announced that security forces and the police who have a third child would be paid a 100,000 rupee incentive, thereby cementing the special position enjoyed by the military in post-war Sri Lanka. Since the military is almost exclusively Sinhalese, this is disturbing and discriminatory. It is worth noting that while members of the armed forces are being provided a financial incentive to expand their families, Tamil women in the Hill County are being paid 500 rupees to undergo an irreversible sterilization procedure. 
4) During the civil war more than 350 Hindu Temples in the country's North and East were demolished. The actual number of Hindu Temples destroyed in, almost certainly, much greater than list provided in this monograph. In other cases, army personnel continue to occupy Hindu temples, some of which are located in de facto HSZs. Relatedly, the State has been building Buddhist shrines and other religious monuments where some of these Hindu temples existed.
In the Hill Country there is a historical Tamil site in Ratnapura called Sivanolipathamalai (Adam's Peak). This is a famous holy site for Hindus and many used to engage in religious rituals there every year. Since 1900, the site has welcomed people who spoke English, Sinhala and Tamil. However, in the 1970s, the site was given an exclusively Sinhalese name and is now called "Sri Pada." Right now, importance is only given to Buddhism and the location has been officially denoted as a Buddhist holy site by the State. The administration of this site is managed by Buddhist monks and Hindu rituals are no longer permitted in Sri Pada.
5) And more on the military takeover of economics in the pdf
The bottomline is simple. Realpolitik dictates that demography is destiny and the Sinhalese government is pursuing the grand strategy of demographically manipulating Sri Lanka's destiny as a Sinhala state, in name, spirit and action. In this sarukku maram game, Sri Lanka unfortunately perceives TN as a grand enemy and the Tamils as people belonging to TN and not to Sri Lanka. This is how it has been for a looong time and this is how it remains today. While the Tamils (in Sri Lanka and TN) do not perceive themselves to be a part of such a game theorizing, perceptions can lead to realities and the Tamils in TN will be forced to play the game in bigger numbers (they have already been playing this game for a while now, but only a small part of TN). It is only a playback of the past 60 years of TN-Sri Lanka history. The strategic depth that Sri Lanka fears, which is almost absent in real-life except for a microscopic minority (that may or may not matter much), will over time become more dominant and a bipartisan support to a neo-LTTE-type organization by the political parties of TN cannot be wished away. Sadly, that day is closer to today than I would like it to be. And even more sadly, it is hard to not look the other side when such a support cast develops because even if you are an atheist, your religion is still your bloody religion, even if practiced and followed by a hundred buffoons of hundred types.

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