10 June 2016

Some vote with their legs, some just cannot

A couple of weeks ago Kapila M Gamage launched his book of poems 'Theiyum Kokila' (I understand, Kokila).  In the title poem there is a reference to a pair of crutches.  There's a lot of empathy with the condition of people who suffered on account of war. This is not about assessing literary worth or commenting on the relevant politics.  But if we talk of crutches then there's a lot that is not say in politically-polite circles (which of course are not necessarily innocent).  The following article, first published in the Daily News on June 9, 2011, . 

April 14th (in most years) is the traditional New Year Day for Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka.  It is a day of renewal, celebration, forgiving and forgetting, compassion and humility, empathy and solidarity.  It is THE NATIONAL FESTIVAL of Sri Lanka and, to my mind, is second to no other festival or celebration in the matter of affirming identity, belonging and sense of nation.  

It is a day, from this day onwards, that will be made with blood, tears, screams and anguish as it is with all of the above, for I noticed just now the ‘date’ of an incident recorded on camera that I have replayed many times on my computer and in my mind. Each time with tears and renewed resolve encapsulated in the words ‘NEVER AGAIN!’

Here’s the link for those who are interested and, let me warn, who have the stomach for witnessing what ‘Liberation a al the LTTE’ really meant: http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=6ca_1239242579.

This happened on April 14, 2009. This was after Tamil civilians held hostage by the LTTE, realizing that death was what the LTTE promised, began to do whatever it took to get away from the clutches of the terrorists.  The LTTE by this time had moved to the No-Fire Zone demarcated by the Security Forces, placed their guns among the civilians, including children, women, elderly and the sick.  The civilians had to risk everything and flee.  The LTTE fired on them.  Ruthless to the end, the ‘liberators’ used whatever death-obtaining instruments they could lay their hands on. Hundreds were shot dead in cold blood.  Thousands escaped and were helped by the troops, at immense risk to life. 

The Big Exodus took place later. In April it was still ‘Deterrent Punishment Time’ as far as the LTTE was concerned.  A young boy, a child in fact, was stopped in his tracks as he fled.  His left leg was chopped off at the top of the thigh and the right was severed just above the ankle.  Right before the eyes of his parents.  Every parent would immediately see in that writhing and dying little child, the angel that he or she once cradled, sang to, smiled with and helped crawl, walk and run.   

This is not the only horror story scripted by terrorism. War is not a fairy tale.  The brutal are not ideology or community bound.  Cruelty is embedded in it all. 

On April 14, 2009, however, a little child was stopped. He would never walk again. Thankfully, he would never scream again either.  Watching this video-clip, however, I got thinking about feet and walking. 

War made people walk.  Long distances too. Some were forced out courtesy ethnic cleansing by the LTTE. No Tamil politician has ever shown any remorse about this.  A friend observed, ‘And never ever (any remorse) by any  so-called human right bodies, (the) UNO, super powers etc.: ‘Mage amma, amma- nubange amma summa’ (My mother is ‘mother’, your mother is nothing).

Some, both civilian and combatant, were made to fly out of the physical cage that is called ‘body’, by the combatants, either through assassination or crossfire.  It did change the demographic composition in the North and East, yes. It benefitted the Tamils more than it did the Sinhalese and far more than the Muslims, most of whom are still languishing in IDP facilities. Changed composition did not result in changed numbers entering Parliament from these areas, but it helped at least 2 extra Tamils become MPs. 

The same friend (above) pointed out, ‘the exodus made the Tamil more prosperous, powerful overseas. None of those sought political asylum under false pretext will ever return to Sri Lanka even if the whole of Sri Lanka is given to them.’ 

I would add the qualifier ‘most’, though.  But, for the record, for all the shrill whines of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora about ill-treatment of Tamils in Sri Lanka, it has been found that close to 75% of them have visited the country at least once after ‘fleeing discrimination’.  They won’t give up their residencies in other countries though. 

One can say ‘this conflict was precipitated by intransigence and chauvinism on the part of the Sinhalese’.  One can say ‘It was Tamil Chauvinism beginning with Ponnambalam Ramanathan, honed by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam and armed by Prabhakaran that declared war’.  The bottom line is that right now, today, June 8, 2011, the demographic composition has been altered and those who left are highly unlikely to return. Not even to an LTTE-free territory, a ‘traditional homeland’ a la residence and/or deed.  

Today more than half the Tamils live outside the North and East.  Those colonially drawn lines of division which have no basis in history, economic efficacy or physical geographical attribute (river, mountain, valley etc), are not made for ‘devolution’, but for land-grab, nothing else.  In practical terms, it would be, as my friend observed, ‘Otuwata  koodaramata oluwa withrak  dagannata dunna wage (allowing the camel to put (just) the head (into) the tent; after some time the camel simply gets the whole body inside the tent and chased the Arab out.’ The reference is of course to Palestine.  

Devolution therefore, ladies and gentlemen of Eelamist persuasion, I am afraid, has been voted out by the Tamils for all practical purposes.   By their feet. Willingly or unwillingly.  A repeat of the adventure by a new set of chauvinists and thugs who would no doubt be aided and abetted in their designs consciously or unconsciously by their Sinhala counterparts, would only lead to a second exodus.  This time, the exit would be faster.  No one, I am willing to wager, would want to be corralled into a No-Fire Zone by a bandit.

No one would want a video-clip such as the one cited above to be made of his/her child.  That child, in death, is a gruesome pointer to what we as a nation, together and alone, produced on this beautiful island of ours. It is what we are capable of. It is what we should avoid at all costs. 
The Tamils have walked out on ‘devolution’.  The nation must walk out of parochialism and chauvinism.  We need to stand together and not walk away from each other or walk out of ourselves and the villages where we were born and played as children.  We need to return to our humanity.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Email: malindasenevi@gmail.com.  Twitter: malindasene.