25 June 2018

Compensation for ex-LTTE cadres. Compensation??? We've already paid!!!!!

In the midst of the brouhaha over Rev Galabodaaththe Gnanasara Thero’s prison term and the unbridled triumphalism demonstrated by those who were ‘shocked’ when people expressed joy that terrorism had been defeated we have the less ‘sexy’ issue of compensating former combatants belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Minister of Rehabiitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs Deva Manoharan Swaminathan has once again submitted a memorandum to the cabinet seeking ‘enhanced compensation’ for ex-LTTE cadres.

Would that put an end to things?  Once it’s done (if it’s done), will all relevant groups and individuals who supported and support the likes of Swaminathan and Prabhakaran declare that they accept and affirm the unitary character of the state? Will they guarantee that there will be no more talk of separatism and that there will be no return to arms?  

Well, it is unfair to mix these things. No one can guarantee such things. These may be concerns, sure, but they need to be raised elsewhere and resolved in different ways. One can’t say ‘we will pay you and you, in return, shall acknowledge and seek forgiveness for all wrongs done, solemnly pledge to give up separatism and never to walk that path again.’  One can’t do that, because minds cannot be fettered and situations don’t remain static.  

We can get a better sense of all this if we address the following question: why compensate in the first place?

What is compensation, anyway? It is typically an amount of money awarded to someone in recognition of some kind of loss. Also, it is typically extracted from someone who has caused this ‘loss’.  

These ex-LTTE cadres have lost much, of this there can be no doubt. They’ve lost much or all of their youth, they have sacrificed opportunities to equip themselves with knowledge and skills that may have helped secure better life chances, they have perhaps been injured and lost a limb or eyesight or hearing, they may be damaged psychologically and so on.  Need we even go into the issue of ‘loss’ concerning parents, spouses and children of those cadres who laid down their lives for the cause they believed in?  

No, ‘loss’ is something we need not argue over.  What we must discuss however is why the state and of course the tax-payers should pocket out money to compensate for these losses. Well, those losses that can be measured, say, for we know that no money can bring back to life those who are gone forever.  Trauma on account of all that or even injury to mind and body and opportunities lost/squandered cannot be gauged; but then again, that’s not an argument for not addressing or helping in some way.

There is however, the vexed issue flowing from the ‘why?’ of it all.  

The narrative cannot be truncated to the conditions that the ‘aggrieved’ find themselves in. There is a past. There were things that were done and that doing did not exactly result in the overflowing of joy in those at the receiving end. 

Now one might say ‘they were freedom fighters.’  Fine.  Nothing wrong in using such labels.  The problem is that the ‘freedom fighters’ were not kindergarten boys and girls brandishing water pistols. They killed people and not all those they attacked were carrying guns. They killed people and thousands of those killed perished in acts of brutal terrorism.  If such people have suffered ‘loss’ (and they have, as we acknowledged), then they cannot really expect those who lives they were prepared to take to pay for it, surely?

Some kinds of ‘compensation’ don’t come with that label, let us not forget. That’s what reconciliation truly is, but again, that doesn’t come with a ‘reconciliation’ label either.  Consider the following:

These ex-terrorists (yes, let’s use the correct terminology here) are alive. They could have perished in battle. They could have swallowed the infamous cyanide capsules that their leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran did not swallow. They could have joined the LTTE’s suicide squad and been ‘martyred’ while they ‘martyred’ hundreds of unarmed civilians.  They didn’t.  They are alive. Unlike their ‘comrades,’ shall we add?  For all the losses they engineered directly or by association, they’ve not had to pay. For he losses incurred along the way, well, let’s say they got enough to console.  The consolation prize of life is huge, under the circumstances.

Consider this also: they could be languishing in a prison (like people who did less, in places operated by the US military such as Guantanamo Bay). They are free. 

Consider this: unlike those who earn the wrath of militaries in the West for thinking differently and wielding arms, these boys and girls were accorded the opportunity to prepare and sit for exams, learn marketable skills and return to their respective communities. All the costs, let us not forget, were borne by the state.  That’s us, you and I and all of us. Tax-payers.  That’s not ‘compensation’ because the term is wrong; it implies a wrong done that’s being corrected. It’s not compensation, it’s generosity. It’s about forgive and forget. It’s reconciliation more real than anything that can be written in Geneva (i.e. the UNHRC recently described by the USA as a ‘cesspool’) and implemented here in Sri Lanka.  

Consider this: the state and the citizens of a third world country spent oodles of money to build hospitals, roads, schools and on other infrastructure and programs that directly or indirectly benefit these individuals whose ‘work’ was about destroying all that.  

Consider this: If these people who had dedicated their lives to kill and destroy are ‘compensated’ then it’s murder and destruction that’s being rewarded.  What a precedent! It would follow, then, that every individual who has committed any crime (and what greater crimes are there than murdering people?) such as pickpocketing, embezzling, cheating, injuring etc., etc., deserves ‘compensation’ too. 

Yes, their families should also be eligible for compensation for the trauma they have to suffer.  The citizens, including those who were short-changed in the process, have to pay to alleviate their sorrows.  

Compensation? We should should talk about it more. We should unravel the entire narrative. Those who killed, maimed and destroyed families, communities, infrastructure, livelihoods and landscapes can of course be remorseful. They can and should be forgiven.  All of that can be forgotten. We should put it all behind us and move on. This, however, is not the way, because it will re-open wounds, it will make victims remember what they are now ready to forget. It will not be compensation for what they suffered but a punishment bestowed upon them.  

If they are talking about ‘compensation’ then, we can say ‘we’ve already paid!’