"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
 
- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Selected Writings by Nadesan Satyendra
- நடேசன் சத்தியேந்திரா

Sathyam Commentary

On Violence & Integrity
[17 February 2001, revised 8 November 2007]

A visitor from Singapore wrote:"...I was going through (your website) and am impressed with its layout and all. What disappointed me was your call to arms along racial lines which is contrary to what most mainland Tamils favour. I am a Tamil in Singapore and a descendant of mainland Tamils...I only ask the Ceylonese to keep their internal squabbles to themselves..."

Tamil Art - Conflagration"...tamilnation.org together with many Tamils, will continue to grapple with (and agonise over) the question of moral laws and ethical ideals in the context of an armed struggle for freedom. The question  troubled Arujna in the battlefield of Kurushetra. In Pondicherry, Aurobindo  grappled with the broader moral issues in 'The Evolution of Man'. Kannagi in Cilapathikaram, took the law into her own hands and burnt down Madurai in her search for justice. The  response to the armed struggle, from those who are not members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, must spring from a coincidence of what they themselves say, with what they do, and in this way reflect their own integrity.... We ourselves believe that means and ends are inseparable - and that the relationship between the two is intrinsic and dynamic. That is the first article of our creed. We are mindful that the resort to violence to secure political ends brings in its train consequences which offend the conscience of humanity. But those who would resist recourse to war, are also duty bound to address some of the questions that arise - would they deny the moral legitimacy of the struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam for freedom from alien Sinhala rule - and what is it that they, themselves, are doing to end the war and secure a just peace where no one people may rule another?  Or would they prefer to disdainfully dismiss the struggle for freedom by the people of Tamil Eelam as some 'internal squabble' or 'terrorism' - and continue to remain silent and distant spectators of Sri Lanka's continuing discrimination, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, extra judicial killings and massacres, indiscriminate aerial bombardment, artillery shelling, wanton rape, genocide and state terrorism. These are not some remote 'philosophical' questions, but have something to do with the way in which each one of us choose to live our lives and also our self image 'of standing for principles'..."


tamilnation.org has made no call for arms and makes no call for arms - whether on 'racial' lines or any other line. We do take the view that the armed resistance of the people of Tamil Eelam to alien Sinhala rule is not unlawful - and the double negative is deliberate.

At the same time, we are mindful of the views expressed by respected legal scholars such as James Crawford, Whewell Professor of International Law, University of Cambridge (in relation to Quebec's secession from Canada): 

" (a) In international practice there is no recognition of a unilateral right to secede based on a majority vote of the population of a sub-division or territory, whether or not that population constitutes one or more "peoples" in the ordinary sense of the word. In international law, self-determination for peoples or groups within an independent state is achieved by participation in the political system of the state, on the basis of respect for its territorial integrity.

(b) Even where there is a strong and sustained call for independence (measured, for example, by referenda results showing substantial support for independence), it is a matter for the government of the state concerned to consider how to respond. It is not required to concede independence in such a case, but may take into account the national interest and the interests of all those concerned. (and)

(c) Even in the context of separate colonial territories, unilateral secession was the exception. Self-determination was in the first instance a matter for the colonial government to implement; only if it was blocked by that government did the United Nations support unilateral secession. Outside the colonial context, the United Nations is extremely reluctant to admit a seceding entity to membership against the wishes of the government of the state from which it has purported to secede. There is no case since 1945 where it has done so..."

That such views are expressed by legal scholars, is not altogether surprising given that international law itself is largely dependent on state practice - and states have always had a shared interest in securing the status quo and protecting existing state boundaries.

Mahatma Gandhi did not found India's struggle for freedom on the 'international law principle' of the right to self determination. If he had, he may have been met with the objection (in the early part of the 20th century)  that no such general principle existed in international law. It was, perhaps, this that led Aurobindo to remark in 1907:

"...It is the common habit of established governments and especially those which are themselves oppressors, to brand all violent methods in subject peoples and communities as criminal and wicked. When you have disarmed your slaves and legalised the infliction of bonds, stripes, and death on any one of them who may dare to speak or act against you, it is natural and convenient to try and lay a moral as well as a legal ban on any attempt to answer violence by violence...

But no nation yet has listened to the cant of the oppressor when itself put to the test, and the general conscience of humanity approves the refusal...Liberty is the life breath of a nation; and when life is attacked, when it is sought to suppress all chance of breathing by violent pressure, then any and every means of self preservation becomes right and justifiable...It is the nature of the pressure which determines the nature of the resistance..."

tamilnation.org  together with many Tamils, will continue to grapple with (and agonise over) the question of moral laws and ethical ideals in the context of an armed struggle for freedom. The question  troubled Arujna in the battlefield of Kurushetra. In Pondicherry, Aurobindo  grappled with the broader moral issues in 'The Evolution of Man': 

"Man's highest aspiration - his seeking for perfection, his longing for freedom and mastery, his search after pure truth and unmixed delight - is in flagrant contradiction with his present existence and normal experience. Such contradiction is part of Nature's general method; it is a sign that she is working towards a greater harmony. The reconciliation is achieved by an evolutionary progress...

...Since perfection is progressive, good and evil are shifting quantities and change from time to time their meaning and value. Four main principles successively, govern human conduct. The first two are personal need and the good of the collectivity. A conflict is born of the opposition of the two instinctive tendencies which govern human action: the individualist and the gregarious.

In order to settle this conflict, a new principle comes in, other and higher than the two conflicting instincts, and aiming both to override and to reconcile them. This third principle is the ethical ideal. But conflicts do not subside; they seem rather to multiply. Moral laws are arbitrary and rigid; when applied to life, they are obliged to come to terms with it and end in compromises which deprive them of all power.

Behind the ethical law, which is a false image, a greater truth of a vast consciousness without fetters unveils itself, the supreme law of our divine nature. It determines perfectly our relations with each being and with the totality of the universe, and it also reveals the exact rhythm of the direct expression of the Divine in us. It is the fourth and supreme principle of action, which is at the same time the imperative law and absolute freedom...."

Kannagi in Cilapathikaram, took the law into her own hands and burnt down Madurai in her search for justice. Today Kannagi is deified in many parts of Tamil Nadu. It is a story  rooted in the ordinary lives of the early Tamils of the Pandyan Kingdom in the first century A.D. and is regarded by many as the national epic of the Tamil people. Professor A.L. Basham writing in 'The Wonder that was India' commented:

''(Cilapathikaram has) a grim force and splendour unparalled elsewhere in Indian literature - it is imbued with both the ferocity of the early Tamils and their stern respect for justice, and incidentally, it throws light on early Tamil political ideas.''

The dividing line between violence and non violence is not always the line of zero thickness of Euclidean geometry. Thileepan and Annai Poopathy gave their lives in the struggle for Tamil Eelam and who can say that in doing so, they were violent. Again, the Black Tigers willingly give their lives, though at the same time, it is true that they take other lives. Theirs are acts of violence but it is their willingness to give of themselves, which has found an answering response in the hearts and minds of thousands of Tamils living today in many lands and across distant seas. The same is true of the cyanide capsule in the hands of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - and to say that is not to romanticise the armed struggle for Tamil Eelam.

What then should be our response to armed resistance? There is no mechanical rule which will provide us with an universal answer. Velupillai Pirabaharan has committed his life to the armed struggle for the freedom of his people. So, did Sathasivam Krishnakumar and Thamilselvan. And so, too, have many other members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. It is in the coincidence of what they said with what they did, that they found harmony,  secured their integrity and enhanced their capacity to influence. In the same way, it was a measure of Gandhi's integrity and his capacity to influence that he walked his talk. His life was an experiment with truth - and truth is a pathless land.

It is, perhaps, some of all this that led the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to confine its membership to those who actually participate in the armed resistance - and that even its political wing should be led by those who have been ready to put their lives on line.

"..the political and the military are not separate, but form one organic whole, consisting of the people's army, whose nucleus is the guerrilla army... the guerrilla force is the party in embryo...." Revolution in the Revolution? - Regis Debray, 1967

By the same token, the  response to the Tamil Eelam armed struggle, from those who are not members of the LTTE, must spring from a coincidence of what they themselves say, with what they do, and reflect their own integrity. Each of us have our dharma - our way of harmony. It was Annie Besant  who remarked once (translating the Gita), that it is better to act in accordance with one's own dharma rather than try 'to act out some one else's dharma better'.

tamilnation.org itself continues to seek a coincidence of its own words and deeds.

"...There are in every part of the world men who search. I am not a prisoner of history. I should not seek there for the meaning of my destiny. I should constantly remind myself that the real leap consists in introduction of invention into existence. In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself..." - Frantz Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks  1952

We believe that means and ends are inseparable - and that the relationship between the two is intrinsic and dynamic. That is the first article of our creed. We are mindful that the resort to violence to secure political ends brings in its train consequences which offend the conscience of humanity. The words of the fictional Prince Andrew Bolkhonsky in * Tolstoy's War & Peace , Book 10, Chapter 25, pp 486-7 are apposite -

"... we play at magnanimity and all that stuff. Such magnanimity and sensibility are like the magnanimity and sensibilities of a lady who faints when she sees a calf being killed; she is so kind-hearted that she can't look at blood, but enjoys eating the calf served up with sauce. They talk to us of the rules of war, of chivalry, of flags of truce, of mercy to the unfortunate and so on. It's all rubbish. I saw chivalry and flags of truce in 1805. They humbugged us and we humbugged them. They plunder other peoples' houses, issue false paper money, and worst of all they kill my children and my father, and then talk of rules of war and magnanimity to foes ! Take no prisoners but kill and be killed ! . . . If there was none of this magnanimity in war, we should go to war only when it was worth while going to certain death, as now.... war is not courtesy but the most horrible thing in life; and we ought to understand that, and not play at war.... The air of war is murder; the methods of war are spying, treachery, and their encouragement, the ruin of a country's inhabitants, robbing them or stealing to provision the army, and fraud and falsehood termed military craft.... "

We recognise the harsh significance of the British Admiralty Note of 1906:

"...It must not be forgotten that the object of war is to obtain peace as speedily as possible on one's own terms, and not the least efficacious means of producing this result is the infliction of loss and injury upon 'enemy' non-combatants...... The object of the bombardment of [commercial] towns might be the destruction of life and property, the enforcing of ransom, the creation of panic, and the hope of embarrassing the government of the enemy's country and exciting the population to bring pressure to bear upon their rulers to bring the war to a close....  Lastly, we have the case of bombardments intended to cover, or divert attention from, a landing. It is easy to conceive that a bombardment of this nature might involve undefended towns and villages, and it presents perhaps the most difficult case of all from a humanitarian point of view. At the same time, no Power could be expected to abstain from such an act of war, if it fell within their strategic plan.... It must come under the category of inevitable acts of war necessitated by overwhelming military considerations. We could not give up the right so to act, and we could not expect other nations to do so.'. . . "

We are also more than mindful of the words of Harry L. Stimson, US Secretary of State, quoted, appropriately enough, by Albert Speer, Hitler's Armaments Minister in his book 'Inside the Third Reich' published in 1970:

"...We must never forget, that under modern conditions of life, science and technology, all war has become greatly brutalized and that no one who joins in it, even in self-defense, can escape becoming also in a measure brutalized. Modern war cannot be limited in its destructive method and the inevitable debasement of all participants... we, as well as our enemies have contributed to the proof that the central moral problem is war and not its methods..." (Harry L. Stimson, US Secretary of State 1929-1933, 'The Nuremberg Trial: Landmark in Law', Foreign Affairs, 1947  - quoted by Albert Speer in Inside the Third Reich, Macmillan, 1970)

We agree with Albert Speer that the central moral problem is war, itself, and not simply its methods. But those who would resist recourse to war, are also duty bound to address some of the questions that arise -

What is it that they, themselves, are doing to end the war and secure a just peace where no one people may rule another? Or do they advocate the 'peace' that comes from surrender to oppressive alien rule

Would they deny the moral legitimacy of the struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam for freedom from alien Sinhala rule?

Would they agree that if democracy means rule of the people, by the people and for the people, then it also means that no one people may rule another? 

Would they agree that rule by a permanent ethnic majority within the confines of a single state is alien rule? 

And, if they are willing to resist alien rule, what will they do to manifest that will - not only in word but also in concrete deed ?  

To what extent are they prepared to give of themselves to that resistance - even if by doing so they may put at risk not so much their lives but their life style? 

Or would they prefer to disdainfully dismiss the struggle for freedom by the people of Tamil Eelam as some 'internal squabble' or 'terrorism' - and continue to remain silent and distant spectators of Sri Lanka's continuing discrimination, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, extra judicial killings and massacres, indiscriminate aerial bombardment, artillery shelling, wanton rape, genocide and state terrorism.

These are not some remote 'philosophical' questions, but have something to do with the way in which each one of us choose to live our lives. It is also about securing our self image 'of standing for principles'. The words of  Michael Rivero serve to focus our attention on the existential dilemma faced by many -

"Most people prefer to believe their leaders are just and fair even in the face of evidence to the contrary, because once a citizen acknowledges that the government under which he or she lives is lying and corrupt, the citizen has to choose what he or she will do about it. To take action in the face of a corrupt government entails risks of harm to life and loved ones. To choose to do nothing is to surrender one's self-image of standing for principles. Most people do not have the courage to face that choice..."

To take action in the face of a corrupt government entails risks of harm to life and loved ones. And, as always, Leo Tolstoy was perceptive -

“One man does not assert the truth which he knows, because he feels himself bound to the people with whom he is engaged;

- another, because the truth might deprive him of the profitable position by which he maintains his family;

- a third, because he desires to attain reputation and authority, and then use them in the service of mankind;

- a fourth, because he does not wish to destroy old sacred traditions;

- a fifth, because he has no desire to offend people;

- a sixth, because the expression of the truth would arouse persecution, and disturb the excellent social activity to which he has devoted himself...”

Again, David Edwards was right to point out in 'The Difficult Art of Telling the Truth -

".. It is not virtuous, or even amoral, to remain silent while terrible crimes are perpetrated in our name – sometimes to be silent is to lie. Ultimately... we have to make a choice: There are victims, there are executioners, and there are bystanders... Unless we wrench free from being what we like to call ‘objective’, we are closer psychologically, whether we like to admit it or not, to the executioner than to the victim.”

tamilnation.org takes the view that the Sri Lankan government and its agencies have during the past several decades, committed systematic violations of the rights of the Tamil people, including grave breaches of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Genocide Convention. David Selbourne was right when he declared in 1984:

"Everyone who possesses an elementary sense of justice has no moral choice but to acquaint himself fully with the plight of the Tamil people. It is an international issue of growing importance. Their cause represents the very essence of the cause of human rights and justice; and to deny it, debases and reduces us all." 

We agree with Mahatma Gandhi that -

"...It is open to a war resister to judge between the combatants and wish success to the one who has justice on his side. By so judging he is more likely to bring peace between the two rather than remaining a mere spectator..."

We judge that the struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam for freedom from alien Sinhala rule has justice on its side and we take the view that by so judging, and placing in the public domain the facts on which that judgment is founded, we are more likely to bring a just peace in the island of Sri Lanka  than by remaining a passive spectator.  And here, we find the words of Martin Luther King persuasive:

"..The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict." 

The charge is genocide and the struggle is for freedom.

 
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