Sri Lanka’s economic and political crisis has reiterated what the island’s Tamils have been saying for decades. Only an independent Tamil state can bring stability to the island.
This weekend, enraged protestors ran through the Sri Lankan president’s official residence and burnt down the prime minister’s home, in scenes which reflected the anger and outrage over the island’s economic collapse. All across the Sinhala south there have been rallies and protests, decrying how the island has fallen into financial ruin.
In the Tamil homeland however, there are different sentiments to be found. Though the North-East has been hit just as hard by the financial crisis, if not harder given the decades of destruction it has faced, the protests of the south do not resonate the same way with Tamils. There is bemusement at how the same people who overwhelmingly elected a man who platformed on bringing a militaristic rule, have turned on him within a few short years. There is scepticism as to whether these demonstrations will ever lead to any deep-rooted change for an island that has been plagued by cycles of violence. And there is a sense of vindication over what Tamils have known and said for decades. Sri Lanka is not just in crisis - it is a failed state, that in its current form is not fit for purpose. It is time for the Tamil people to be free from it.
The current economic crisis is just the latest episode in a long history of government mismanagement, corruption and short-sightedness. It comes after 13 years of rule that has been unchallenged by any Tamil militancy, with all the goodwill of the international community and even after lessons learnt from the promise of reform from the failedYahapalana government. It is now internationally agreed that Sri Lanka left to its own devices will not be able to prosper in almost any sphere. It has led to its own demise, being incompetent and incapable of governance. Suffering is found across the island whereas before it remained solely for those the state deemed not “Sri Lankan” enough.
Though many may blame the Rajapaksas, they are just a symptom of a bigger broken system. Decades of unfiltered Sinhala Buddhist racist rhetoric brought the Rajapaksas to power – democratically every time. The Sinhala-Buddhist nature of the state is enshrined in its constitution, supporting a toxic discourse across all spectrums of the political South which has ultimately empowered a succession of populist chauvinists. It has produced a state that has been led by racists and war criminals to power. It has built an inflated military that swallows up massive government expenditure whilst millions are plunged into poverty. And it has embedded a culture of impunity that has allowed abuses from corruption to genocide to go entirely unpunished.
Each time it is the Tamil people who have been forced to bear the brunt of this rule, despite vehemently opposing such chauvinism at each and every opportunity. Just look at the 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2019 presidential election results and mark the areas of those who voted against the Rajapaksas, what do you see?
Even before this current economic crisis, the case for Tamil Eelam was one that has been well made and popular amongst Tamils. Indeed, it was so popular, that the Sri Lankan state had to outlaw the demand through the 6th Amendment to the constitution, despite Tamils repeatedly and resoundingly backing it peacefully and through the ballot. This move, alongside decades of discrimination and violence deliberately closed any room for democratic discourse and sowed the seeds for conflict.
In the 13 years since the armed struggle has ended, however, the case for an independent Tamil state has only grown stronger. It is not difficult to see why when examining the many ways in which Colombo’s rule is holding the North-East back. Under Sri Lanka, the Tamil homeland has been subjected to occupation, destroyed livelihoods, economic ruin, and relentless human rights abuses. How different would the whole island have looked if the Vaddukoddai Resolution of 1976, which Tamils resoundingly endorsed a year later, had seen fruition?
All of this is not by accident, but part of a deliberate strategy of genocide. The repeated mass killings alone have made clear the case as to why an independent Tamil state is needed to protect from further atrocities. But for Sri Lanka too, the continued occupation of the North-East is a drain on resources and a constant source of instability.
The international community is currently pondering over the next steps on how to fix the broken Sri Lankan state. The answer lies in respecting the will of the Tamil people and ensuring that the levers that determine their future lies in their hands. The tools to prosperity are there - the Tamil diaspora which even Rajapaksa appealed to is willing to invest and support the development of the nation if given assurances that the rights of the Tamil people will be respected.
Independence is not a novel argument internationally either. Indeed, one need look no further than Scotland to see how compelling and common sensical the argument for independence is. And it is one that resonates across the North-East from Polikandy to Pottuvil, as tens of thousands showed last year.
The Eelam Tamil people, in the homeland and around the world, are resilient. Throughout decades of systemic oppression, military occupation, mass killings, widespread sexual violence, and displacement across the globe, they continue to stand in defiance and against all odds. They continue to rise generation after generation and hope for an opportunity to build a fairer country. As a new governance structure for the island is being formulated and decades of racist policy dissected, it is important that the 6th Amendment to Sri Lanka's Constitution is repealed and a referendum on the issue of an independent Tamil Eelam is held. That is the only way to bring stability and prosperity to the whole island.
Malaravan is a staff writer at the Tamil Guardian