"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
27 November 1998

மாவீரர் நாள் - Maaveerar Naal 1998

மண்ணில் விழைந்த முத்துக்களே...


Today is Maha Veerar Naal. It is a day when hundreds of thousands of Tamils living in many lands will bow their heads in silence, even if only for a few moments - and remember those of their brothers and sisters, their ‘udan pirapukal’, who have given their lives in the struggle for Tamil Eelam.

It is a day of remembrance. It is also a day of re-dedication by the many, who may not have put their lives at risk, but who nonetheless identify themselves with the cause for which their brothers and sisters in Tamil Eelam have given their lives - the struggle for an independent Tamil state.

The cultural events to be held in the coming days,  in many parts of the globe, as far apart as Australia, South Africa, London, U.S.A., Norway and Germany, will reflect not only the growing togetherness of more than 70 million Tamil people but also their growing determination to preserve their national identity and live as a free people - a national identity, rooted in a shared heritage, in a vibrant culture, a rich language and literature and consolidated by struggle and suffering.

".. to have suffered, worked, hoped together; that is worth more than common taxes and frontiers conforming to ideas of strategy... I have said 'having suffered together'; indeed, common suffering is greater than happiness. In fact, national sorrows are more significant than triumphs because they impose obligations and demand a common effort. .. A nation is a grand solidarity constituted by the sentiment of sacrifices which one has made and those that one is disposed to make again. " (Ernest Renan: Que'est-ce qu'une Nation? Paris 1882)

The pain and suffering of the people of Tamil Eelam and their struggle for freedom  is serving as a catalyst to cement the growing togetherness of more than seventy million Tamil people - a nation without a state.

Thamilan Illatha Nadu Illai...

is an aspiration which is finding an answering response in the hearts and minds of Tamils living in many lands and across distant seas. Tamil Eelam is not yet a state. It is without the resources that a state may command. The people of Tamil Eelam can only turn to their ‘udan pirapukal’ in many lands - the Tamil diaspora is the hinterland for the struggle for justice and freedom in Tamil Eelam.

Some ten years ago, in April 1988, at a time when the struggle for Tamil Eelam was confronted with the occupying forces of a foreign army, Velupillai Pirabaharan, the leader of Tamil Eelam sent a message to an international Tamil Conference in London:

"In view of this grim situation facing the people of Tamil Eelam, it is the national duty and solemn responsibility of all the Tamil patriots living abroad to organise and mobilise themselves into a powerful international voice of reason to fight for the redemption of their motherland caught in a monumental historical tragedy. The patriotic Tamil intelligentsia, living abroad should lead an effective global campaign to stir the conscience of the civilised world about this tragic human conditions of betrayal and oppression. We fervently hope that the international Tamil community will understand and support wholeheartedly, the determined struggle of our liberation movement to fight for the cause of justice for our oppressed people."

Today, ten years later, the people of Tamil Eelam face another grim prospect - the prospect of disease and starvation. Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga having failed in her military adventure to conquer and rule the Tamil homeland (despite the capture of Jaffna, three years ago, in December 1995) and finding increasing difficulty in mobilising the material resources and the man power necessary to secure and sustain Sinhala rule, seeks to use food as a weapon of war. It is a strategy which invokes memories of the humanitarian tragedy of Biafra.

The use of food as a weapon of war is a war crime but, it would seem that many foreign governments are not averse to looking the other way. They look away not because they do not see the force of reason in the conclusions of Professor Jordan Paust:

Tamil Child in the Vanni"Under human rights law, there is a recognised right to adequate and available food......whatever the full contours and permeations of the right to food might be, it is clear that it constitutes a violation of the human rights law to deny adequate food to a given population. Moreover, it would be especially unlawful and egregious to deny the right to adequate food as government tactic to control certain persons or as a weapon of war. The most egregious violations include denials of food and medicine or medical supplies, especially for children.…

"If food is likely to be used by both the general population and enemy combatants, the destruction or denial of food, in circumstances where one can reasonably foresee that the general population will suffer, will necessarily involve the indiscriminate use of food as a weapon....

"[these] denials also violate related prohibitions under the laws of war, and constitute serious war crimes... Fear of food falling into the hands of enemy combatants is not an excuse for denying food to the civilians... starvation even of enemy combatants, seems necessarily inhumane because it involves unnecessary and lingering death and suffering..

" As demonstrated in this Essay, there are serious allegations and significant recognitions of human rights violations in Sri Lanka relating to the right to adequate food, the right to adequate medicine and medical supplies, and the right to freedom from arbitrary and inhumane detention and controls. Such denials are sustained by governmental censorship, denials of access to certain areas for investigative purposes, and intimidation of non governmental organisations (NGOs)... Moreover, these denials are sustained by the lack of adequate governmental investigations, arrests, and prosecutions of alleged perpetrators - patterns that facilitate an air of impunity..." (Professor. Jordan J. Paust in an Essay published in the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law in May 1998 titled 'The Human Rights to Food, Medicine and Medical Supplies, and Freedom from Arbitrary and Inhuman Detention and Controls in Sri Lanka')

Governments look away not because they are unaware of the expressions of grave concern by many non governmental organisations and the appeals made by Bishops in Jaffna.  They look away, not because they are unaware of the continuing suffering and pain of the people of Tamil Eelam in Jaffna and in the Vanni. They look away, not because the efforts of the Tamil people to make known to the world the suffering and pain of their brothers and sisters in Tamil Eelam, have failed. They look away not because they are so foolish as to be 'misguided' by Sri Lanka's propaganda and 'diplomacy' - after all most governments have their own sources of reliable information, together with the capacity to sift the information that they receive. They look away because the question is not so much a matter of  human rights but a matter of real politick.

Amnesty in a full page advertisement in the London based Guardian on 12 March 1994 commented on the cynicism of real politick in the context of East Timor - comments which are equally applicable to the situation of the Tamil people in the island of Sri Lanka:

''When governments pretend not to notice suffering, to whom can peoples.. turn for help? The United Nations? Alas, the deeper you delve, the redder the faces. The cynicism of realpolitick extends even to the UN Commission on Human Rights...

When Amnesty attended the Commission in Geneva last month to urge action on Indonesia and East Timor, we met only embarrassment. The governments to which we spoke repeated what they have been promising us for thirty years: they will pursue a policy of 'quiet diplomacy'''

Governments look away because existing states find common cause in preserving existing state boundaries, whether they be East Timor within Indonesia or Tamil Eelam within Sri Lanka. The remarks of a non governmental organisation in 1985  are revealing:

"One of the appalling facts of life about international human rights fora is that interest only perks up when the body count rises and so called independent experts, with a few notable exceptions, are very susceptible to government pressure....What seems apparent is that we have not faced up to the (Sri Lanka) Government's use of the separatist issue ...In other words it seems to me we need to identify more precisely and concretely the exact nature of the struggle rather than skirting round the Government's characterisation of it. I feel strongly this is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently...."

Today, many governments continue to find common cause with Sri Lanka in opposing 'separatism'. They suggest that the people of Tamil Eelam should be satisfied with   ‘autonomy’, ‘devolution’, and perhaps ‘pseudo federalism’, even though the Sinhala political parties cannot agree amongst themselves as to the extent of that devolution and even though under any such  dispensation  Sinhala majority rule will continue  from the centre and the Sinhala armed forces will continue as the ultimate repository of the coercive power of a Sinhala dominated Buddhist state. The suggestions that are made are not dissimilar to those that were made to the people of India in 1909: that they should be satisfied with the ‘autonomy’ and ‘devolution’ offered by the British Minto-Morley reforms, with a British Indian army and a British Viceroy, in place as the ‘ultimate controllers’.

These governments deny that the people of Tamil Eelam are subject to rule by an alien Sinhala people and assert that universal franchise affords every Tamil the right to vote. But they choose to ignore the political reality that during the past 50 years and more, ethnic identity has in fact determined the way in which both the Sinhala people and the Tamil people have exercised their political right of universal franchise and that during this period, no Tamil has ever been elected to a predominantly Sinhala electorate and no Sinhalese has ever been elected to a predominantly Tamil electorate - apart, that is, from multi member constituencies.

They choose to ignore the political reality that the practice of 'democracy' within the confines of one state has led to rule by a permanent Sinhala majority and they refuse to confront the simple question as to why it is that during the past five decades, the executive head of the Sri Lanka government has always been a Sinhala Buddhist. The answer that a Sinhala Buddhist nation masquerading as a multi ethnic Sri Lankan nation, will always have a Sinhala Buddhist as executive head of government, somehow, eludes them.

They continue to speak of a ‘multi ethnic plural society’ though no such society exists  in Sri Lanka. In the 1980’s when the Tamil people cried out against the murderous onslaught by President J. R. Jayawardene’s Sri Lanka, they chose to call Sri Lanka ‘an open, working, multiparty democracy’. But in October 1998, Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga facing growing expressions of support from Tamils in South Africa, found it politically expedient to admit in a TV interview in that country:

"Mr. J. R. Jayawardene ... believed that he could use violence against the Tamil people and solve the problem in the same way he used violence continuously against our people, Sinhala people and all other Sri Lankan people as a solution to all political problems. The Tamil people were attacked 4 times between 77 and 83, physically attacked, bodily attacked, their properties destroyed. 1983 was of course, the high water mark of this anti-Tamil violence practised by the UNP - horrendous crimes were committed against the Tamil people."

Notwithstanding President Chandrika Kumaratunga's admissions, governments which characterised Sri Lanka as ‘an open, working, multiparty democracy’ in the 1980s, continue the charade today. Furthermore, they choose to ignore the well documented record of the genocidal war launched by Sri Lanka, the Chemmanis and the rapes, and even the charges of murder and intimidation made by the Sinhala opposition party against Chandrika Kumaratunga's People's Alliance, and they continue to insist, with heads firmly in the sand, that ‘Sri Lanka is a longstanding democratic republic with an active multiparty system’.

They choose to ignore the constitutional reality of a Buddhist Sri Lankan state and the political reality of a belligerent Sinhala Buddhist fundamentalism. They deny that the people of Tamil Eelam constitute a ‘people’ entitled to freedom, though that view has found support amongst many non governmental organisations. They deny the  right of the people of Tamil Eelam to freely determine their political status - in the same way as many of them denied, for centuries, the right of a colonial people to secure freedom from alien rule.

They believe that by looking away,  the Tamil people will be 'encouraged' to submit to alien Sinhala rule within the existing state boundaries of Sri Lanka, that Tamil national consciousness will be 'tamed' and  Velupillai Pirabaharan will disappear as a ‘bad dream’. They are unmindful of Aurobindo’s words in 1907 on ideas such as freedom:

" The idea creates its martyrs. And in martyrdom there is an incalculable spiritual magnetism which works miracles. A whole nation, a whole world catches the fire which burned in a few hearts; the soil which has drunk the blood of the martyr imbibes with it a sort of divine madness which it breathes into the heart of all its children, until there is but one overmastering idea, one imperishable resolution in the minds of all besides which all other hopes and interests fade into significance and until it is fulfilled, there can be no peace or rest for the land or its rulers.

It is at this moment that the idea creates its heroes and fighters, whose numbers and courage defeat only multiplies and confirms until the idea militant has become the idea triumphant. Such is the history of the idea, so invariable in its broad outlines that it is evidently the working of a natural law."

They call upon the people of Tamil Eelam to forget any aspiration that they may have for an independent state.  One British Conservative Party M.P. frankly remarked on a recent visit to Sri Lanka that ‘somebody should sit alongside Pirabaharan and tell him that a separate state is just not on.’

It was a remark that was almost on par with the comment of Winston Churchill, who expressed his concern in the 1930’s about a ‘half naked fakir (Mahatma Gandhi) parleying with the King’s Ministers'   and who later, when he became British Prime Minister, asserted that ‘he had not been appointed as the King’s First Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire’.

Notwithstanding such sentiments, empires did liquidate themselves in the face of the enduring power of struggles for freedom. It was a liquidation which left behind  patch work states whose boundaries had everything to do with the needs of the former conqueror and little do with recognising the national identities of the separate peoples who had been conquered. And today, the shared need to protect existing state boundaries leads former colonial rulers to find common cause with those to whom they had transferred power.

Together they seek to promote the idea of the ‘benevolent’ rule of one people by another (with some 'devolution' thrown in) - in the same way as many had promoted the idea of ‘benevolent’ British rule, ‘benevolent’ Dutch rule, ‘benevolent’ Portuguese rule, and ‘benevolent’ Spanish rule for two centuries and more. They seek a stable world order without recognising the enduring (and stabilising) force of the political  principle of self determination which proclaims that no one people may rule another.

The struggle for Tamil Eelam is not about securing ‘benevolent’ Sinhala rule. It is about securing an independent Tamil state and the way in which that independent Tamil state may associate with an independent Sri Lanka.  It is about freedom from alien Sinhala rule. It is for that freedom, that thousands of Tamils have given their lives. And, it is those thousands of Tamils that we, their brothers and sisters, their ‘udan pirapukal’, remember and honour today - with bowed heads.

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