Mobs on the rampage Mobs on the rampage
Jul 25, 2017

All things black since Black July

It was exactly 27 years ago this day. The day was a Poya Sunday. Late Saumyamoorthy Thondaman, the respected plantation sector trade unionist and political leader, on a short visit to Chennai immediately after, was quoted in Tamil Nadu media as having said that in Sri Lanka, “It is Sunday sil – Monday kill”.

It was a day when my parental house was cramped full with about 50 men, women and children, wanting refuge and security. All, neighbours and ordinary Tamil families, with whom we grew together from our infancy. With whom we played, went to school, quarrelled and made friends the next day. Long time neighbours in Rathnakara Place, whose houses were being looted and burnt, while my parents were helplessly watching two whole days, trying desperately to find a way out to move them to safety.

They moved out on the third day to Saraswathy Hall, Bambalapitiya and Hindu College, Ratmalana in navy escorted convoys with tears they couldn’t hold on to, in swollen eyes. My father was admitted to the Cardiac Unit of the Colombo General Hospital, the same evening. All that after a belated 48 hour curfew, imposed by President Jayewardene.

That was “Black” July in 1983. There were more horrific incidents acted out without shame and with braggardismo, in broad daylight. Doped heroes in mobs looking for loot and humans to kill. How many heroes have we had since that “Black July”, in this motherland given in custody to the Sinhala Buddhists by Lord Gauthama Buddha himself?

Sinhala heroes they all are. The Rajapaksas right in front, led by President Mahinda R. with brother Gotabaya close on his heels, or close by his side. The architects of the now concluded war and President Rajapaksa honoured as King Mahinda VII by that archaeological scholar, Ellawala Medhananda Thera of the JHU.

Gen. Sarath Fonseka also claims he alone commandeered the army to victory against the Tamil separatist Tigers, paraded as a hero by the JVP and their DNA. Now we have the Honourable Minister Weerawansa who almost starved to death on a saline drip, whose photo went up on city walls with gratitude, for that “heroic” fast.

They are descendant heroes after Kaluwa Dewage Cyril Mathew, a prominent minister in the UNP government of J.R. Jayewardene, who gave Sinhala extremism the modern day hard line brutality. Mathew was conspicuously racist with a vengeance in his call for Sinhala supremacy. He was openly accused for his role in creating mayhem in Jaffna, burning down the Jaffna Public Library and the residence of TULF MP Yogeswaran, during the final days of the District Development Council elections in 1981. Mathew was also accused of the pogrom on Tamil people on “Black” July itself.

The rest is knotted history with a protracted war and a human tragedy that kept heaping more and more complications over the past decades. In between there were All Party Conferences, the Annexe “C” as it was known, the famous Thimpu talks which brought consensus among all Tamil armed groups and the TULF on the concept of a “Tamil Homeland” with three other conditions that laid the basis for any further negotiations. There were also three further attempts at negotiations under Presidents’ Premadasa and Kumaratunga and then under PM Wickremesinghe.

Each failed attempt made it far more complex and brutal to live with and the war crossed seas and geographical borders, bringing in many and varied actors. Some wanting to push geo political agendas and some wanting to live and earn with the war.  This war, concluded in May last year, left all the agonies of a never attempted reconciliation in a distraught, divided and a devastated country. It still leaves the decades old, unanswered question, “do we really want peace and reconciliation the decent and honourable way as a modern, democratic, nation state ?”

I would beg to answer in the negative, even after all the blood we’ve shed and lives, infrastructure and environment destroyed. After unaccounted numbers of soldiers, Tiger combatants and even civilians who never wanted this war, have been left disabled for life. They would say an emphatic “no”, though it may insult thousands of young war widows on both sides of the divide, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim. And with children — how many exactly none would still not know — who are orphaned, have lost one or both of their parents in the North, Wanni and the East and those from soldier families added.

We yet take pride fooling ourselves that we Sri Lankans are the noblest (loken uthum rata) and we don’t  take orders from imperialist Western and international countries, calling them conspirators. We still try to fool ourselves that we do best, our own way, a Sinhala society that has pushed for political hegemony over six decades and in the process have woefully failed to find positive answers to any of our national issues in a decent, democratic manner. We don’t have to listen to or take orders from any, if we are truly working towards solving our own socio economic problems, within democratic politics. But we honestly, DON’T.

Leaving aside all the criticism, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LL&RC) established by President Rajapaksa, does not prove the regime is sincere or committed in achieving what is said, it would. The way it is constituted, leaves no trust, no confidence for battered and bruised Tamil and Muslim people in North and East to walk up to the LL&RC, to say what they have to say. Will those people held in barbed wire camps under military guard, ever come up to this LL&RC to say how they were treated, how their relatives went missing and what they now need ?

If there was any serious commitment and a sincere political will for reconciliation in this ethnically divided and polarised society, the proposal for the LL&RC should have been brought to parliament for due consent from all political parties, including Tamil and Muslim members. A serious commitment would have sought a national consensus for honest reconciliation between estranged  and polarised communities. But such was not even thought of. The LL&RC was established ex parté by the regime in control, only to counter any investigation, campaigned for in human rights circles.

It was the same with the APRC. As at all times in the past, there was no serious attempt to include democratic Tamil representation. The likes of EPDP were thought of as enough excuse. Dragged on for more than a year, the APRC began deliberating on a draft that is supposed to have spelt out the basis for a new constitution. Two years more and 128 APRC meetings to discuss the chapters of that draft document, produced a final report that was given to President Rajapaksa in June this year, only to be shelved and for other reforms to be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers for supposed extension of presidential terms.
That shelved on political uncertainties, Wickremesinghe as UNP and Opposition Leader accepts dialogue with Rajapaksa to bring in an Executive Premiership, totally outside the efforts of the four year old APRC.

It is again only about accommodating the political agendas of the Sinhala South and their post Mathew leaders, Rajapaksa, Wickremesinghe, et al. Where are the answers to the crying need of reconciling a nation that bled on either side of an ethnic divide for decades and is numbed for life ? Where are the answers for democratising a society to accommodate all within a secular, plural state ? Where are academics, intellectuals, civil society and corporate leaders, artistes, trade unionists and journalists, who should lead the people in finding answers ?

There are no leaders, no intellectual leaders, for sure. July ‘83 was a cardiac arrest that left us sick like dead. It left all things BLACK beyond that July, for sure.


(The sunday leader)