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'Idea of Tamil nation is not dead in SL'

Writing in Tehelka, Revati Laul, detailed her recent trip to the North-East, concluding, "but even in the aftermath of the terror and genocide, the Tamil idea of nationhood has not disappeared. If India does not want another cycle of violence at its doorstep, it cannot afford to be indifferent to the voices of the Lankan Tamils."

See here for original article, extracts reproduced below:

  "With the war over, things have gone back to usual. Contrary to Rajapaksa’s famed 13th amendment, promising autonomy to the provincial councils in the north for the Tamils, this means a return to State policies from the 1950s that systematically and deliberately excluded them from cultivable farmland and prime fishing waters. The exclusion that sparked the Tamil resistance and war in the first place is back with a bang."

  "TRINCOMALEE IN the east, a long and beautiful stretch of coastline once held by the LTTE, is now back on the tourist map after it was recaptured by the army in 2006. But Trincomalee is overrun with soldiers at every street corner. Every passenger on every incoming bus to the north and east is checked by the military. Every time you board a bus, you have to write your contact numbers, purpose of visit and passport details."

  "In another camp in the east — local guides did not wish it to be identified — a frail 53-year-old woman stepped out of her mud hut to greet us. She dashed her daughter off to get us a sweet red drink from a store nearby as her eyes slowly shifted to a faraway place. She now lives entirely in the past. Every waking moment is spent thinking of the home they fled in 2006; the two cows she had to sell, named Neerum or water and Neeruppu or fire. “Even if I don’t get back my farmland, I will live with that. All I want, even if it’s just a small hut, is to get back to my homeland,” she said wistfully.

At yet another camp in the north, a fisherman’s eyes brimmed over. Living in a camp for more than 22 years is no life, he said. In the 1990s, he left the camp to live in the Vanni, the LTTE heartland, where he felt protected and thought the Tamils would have a future. Now, at the age of 60, with that dream getting more and more blurred, he confessed, “I think I should just end it all now and walk into the sea.”

The refusal to be named or identified is commonplace among the Tamils. Their fear is palpable."

  "For still others like Vengadesh (name changed), the horror has visited him many times over. He had provided logistics support to the LTTE in the early 1990s. He was picked up by the Sri Lankan Army for this and sent to the infamous Fourth Floor, their version of Abu Ghraib. According to Vengadesh, his head was immersed in petrol fumes; he was strung upside down and suspended from just his two thumbs. He was released eight months later. He married, had children and began what he thought was a regular middle-class life. But when the civil war ended, he was picked up by the military and sent to the Fourth Floor again.

The torture, however, has not taken the idea of the Tamil nation out of him. Even as he spoke with us, he smiled as he looked back on what he calls his “contribution to the Tamil cause”. He would do it again, he says. For now though, he lives with the constant fear that torture may revisit him any time.

Looking at these stories of torture as merely a humanitarian crisis, however, is to miss the big picture. It makes activist lawyer K Guruparan very angry. “A simple human rights discourse doesn’t help,” he explains. It merely forces people to weigh one set of atrocities against another — those by the Sri Lankan Army in 2009 against those carried out over the past 30 years by the LTTE, which had one of the deadliest guerrilla armies and suicide squads in contemporary history. “Without the history of Tamil oppression and the ongoing structural genocide, the story of the Tamils has almost no meaning,” says Guruparan. “You have to look at the longstanding process of disenfranchisement from which the LTTE emerged.”

  "Liberal Party leader Wijesinha says one must not read too much into the activities of the fringe mobs. “The majority of the Sinhalese want a political solution to the Tamil problem,” he insists. “However, there are some bad elements within the government that are causing trouble.”

It’s the kind of perspective that almost deletes the history of Tamil oppression leading up to the LTTE. It’s the view that paints them as an aberration, as if terror suddenly arrived in the 1980s out of nowhere. However, every single Tamil we met has exactly the opposite story to tell. If you were a Tamil in Sri Lanka and lived through the 1980s and ’90s, they say, you were either in the LTTE or a supporter."

  "Tamil MP Gajendra Ponnambalam describes why the north and the east became the land of the Tamil Eelam; why Tamils in Sri Lanka almost universally supported the idea of a separate nation... The time for political reconciliation with the Sri Lankan government is long over, he says. In 2010, he broke away from the Tamil National Alliance — an umbrella body of Tamil parties — over this issue. “When you face such blatant oppression, you end up focussing fundamentally on what you need to do to keep your identity alive,” he said."

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