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Militarisation: a state of terror

The Sri Lankan state has relentlessly continued to consolidate its militarisation of the North-East since the armed conflict drew to a close in 2009. Regardless of international efforts at closed door diplomacy and the occasional public wrist slapping, the Sri Lankan state has shown no signs of relenting. The burgeoning military budget, the grabbing of civilian lands for military housing and establishments, and the military’s saturating presence within everyday civilian life has continued; not only contrary to well-trodden paths of post-conflict reconciliation, but in brazen defiance of international criticism.

The significance of militarisation of the North-East however, goes beyond these measurable markers and tangible concerns. The end of the armed conflict has not proved to be a window of opportunity, to ensure equal rights for all citizens or create a ‘terrorism’-free liberal democracy. Instead it has been exploited by the Sri Lankan state as an opportunity to orchestrate the unhindered expansion of Sinhala Buddhist hegemony. Delirious with victory, the state, armed with its military, has embarked on an uncompromising goal of asserting a Sinhala Buddhist identity throughout the island and ruthlessly erasing any expression of an Eelam Tamil one.

Militarisation of the Tamil homeland needs to be understood within this context. It is not the physical deployment of Sri Lankan military soldiers in the North-East, but a state of terror imposed on the Tamil nation. In this setting, to argue that a decreased, more ‘reasonable’ deployment of the military would be acceptable, as Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan recently suggested, is to make a mockery of the victims and illustrates an abject failure to grasp the gravity of the crimes. The fact that these crimes continue to take place, only adds to the sheer absurdity and thoughtlessness of such an argument. To a Tamil woman in the Vanni now, the presence of just one soldier, who potentially raped and filmed the bodies of mutilated women on his mobile phone, is no more reassuring than five.

The deployment of the military in the rest of the island can never be a justification for ‘reasonable’, ‘pre-war’ deployment in the North-East, even if there was equity in numbers. The Sri Lankan state’s monopoly on violence is not to equally defend and ensure the rights of all citizens. It is to protect the order of Sinhala Buddhist supremacy. The military in the North-East are not stationed to protect the Tamils, quite the reverse, the military is stationed to scrutinise and intimidate them, in order to protect the Sinhalese. The very presence of the military, is designed to serve as a reminder of the chauvinism that now rules over the entire island, and military’s every action, a warning to those who dare defy this status quo.

One need not look any further than the military’s attacks on Tamil students at the University of Jaffna who attempted to mark Maaveerar Naal by laying candles of remembrance for their fallen brothers, sisters and friends. The storming of student dormitories, the violent attacks on peaceful protesters, the arrests of student leaders by the terrorism investigation unit, the listing of ‘wanted’ students and the likely torture of detainees was to paralyse the Tamil nation with fear. The objective of each attack and each arrest was not law enforcement, but to terrorise. The mystery surrounding numbers of arrests and locations of detention further fuels this climate. The presence of Sri Lankan soldiers in the North-East, be it 1000 or 100,000, is to terrorise the Tamil nation into submission and acceptance of Sinhala Buddhist supremacy. Any act of defiance against this, however mundane or however peaceful, is seen as an act that threatens this ideology and one that needs to be quashed. This is why a candle lit behind closed doors by a Tamil remembering fallen LTTE cadres is considered a threat, in a way that public remembrance of the JVP’s dead never will be.

The Sri Lankan state’s response to Maaveerar Naal remembrance, comes as no surprise. The state has long destroyed the homes, memorials, and even cemeteries of fallen LTTE cadres. Dismayingly, the response of the Tamil nation’s political representation comes as little surprise either. The state’s violence against the Tamil population, once again highlights the inadequacy of this representation, and shone a spotlight on the glaring impotency and failings of its leading figures in the Tamil National Alliance. Unity of Tamil political representation cannot be the end in itself, particularly when it is failing so miserably in achieving its raison d'être. As we have previously argued, the dangers of having no representation are greatly surpassed by the consequences of having a passively submissive one. The Jaffna University attacks have created a pertinent example of this - a swell of unrepresented, enraged Tamil youth, simmering under military rule, and lacking effective political advocates.

It is not merely a question of numbers, or ratio of soldiers to civilians. The crux of the problem is with the very make-up of the military and the purpose of its deployment in the North-East. Comprised overwhelmingly of the Sinhala Buddhist majority, it is irrefutable that the military stands accused of committing the most grievous crimes against the Tamil population. Whilst those at the top of the chain of command must be answerable for genocide, the Sri Lankan state’s absolute refusal to independently investigate the allegations and bring those individually responsible to account, ensures that to the Tamil nation, each and every Sri Lankan soldier is guilty. The very same soldiers that they have seen commit horrific acts of violence during the armed conflict, are now responsible for ‘security’ in their towns and villages.