The Sri Lankan conflict between Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese people defined the contours of violence in the country, which despite having the most enviable Human Development Index in South Asia, continues to be plunged in human rights abuses. The Indian experience of the civil war, as is remembered in the blunder of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force being sent to the neighbouring country in 1987, was mediated by constant failures— first of lack of assistance and trust between the Indian force, the Sri Lankan army and state, the LTTE and the local Sri Lankan Tamils; second because of human rights violations such as rapes and violence committed by the peace-keeping soldiers; and finally in the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by LTTE militants. Despite relative peace in the country after 2009 because of two major reasons, that are, the impact of the terrorism scare on the international Tamil community after 9/11 which closed down LTTE funding, and India banning the organisation after its Prime Minister’s assassination and thus blocking the LTTE’s source of arms procurement, peace is elusive. What this conflict, which has witnessed inter-group ferment since Sri Lankan independence in 1948 itself, teaches us is that the end of war does not guarantee peace. What texts about war as ancient as the Iliad by Homer affirm is repeated by this issue– there are no victors in war because everyone is vanquished. War makes everyone a victim, making triumph an impossibility.
This civil war did not rest on a strict division of binaries— Sinhalese and Tamil. These two primary groups have many other divisions and differences among them. For example, some Tamils prefer to identify themselves as Muslim Tamils, and others are the descendants of Tamil plantation workers, different from the ones seceding in the Northern part of the country. The concept of homeland and identity has constituted the bedrock of the Sri Lankan crisis, because language, religion and ethnicity have determined the ‘othering’ process. The mistrust between communities stems from questions of resource deprivation, and establishing domination within the country. This is evident in the factors that sparked off the war— legalizing Sinhalese as the only national language, giving primacy to Buddhism, and having reservations in government jobs for the Sinhalese with no basis. The caste-based reservation in India, on the contrary, has a well-developed historical and contemporary basis for reservation, for example. Tamil outbursts against perceived injustice led to the Sri Lankan government clinically targeting them, which in turn led to the emergence of the aggressive Tamil nationalist outfit, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (‘Eelam’ means state). Revolutions can be successfully sustained through intense disciplinary tactics; otherwise they can be easily disbanded by the force of the state. Maintaining order in the lines, similar to the regulation of soldiers, is imperative if coercion is to be used for changing the political set-up (a military coup, for example). This tends to make the leaders of revolutions very authoritarian, and some would say dictatorial. They stop condoning any defection and reward every case of breaking the ranks with punitive violence, making it an example to spark off fear in their forces. This has been observed in the case of Che Guevara (the charismatic leader who led the revolution in Cuba) and in the case of Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE. He projected himself as the sole leader of the community, and ruthlessly suppressed dissent.
This identity conflict continues to exist even in the present day. The LTTE has dissolved, but reconciliation hasn’t taken place. The state, which is one of the actors in the peace process, has presented a very limited mandate for peace, and no compromise seems to be in sight. It has increased its defence budget, passed an anti-terrorism act, and refused to locate ‘lost’ Tamils whose families claim that they were taken away by the army. It doesn’t allow Tamils to mourn the dead by labelling all the dead, many of them innocents, as terrorists, apart from building a war memorial commemorating its ‘martyred’ soldiers in the middle of the Tamil heartland to add salt to their wounds. Tamil families are under complete state surveillance, due to which the primary issue for the peace process is not that of political resettlement but of the militarisation of Tamil areas.
These are only a few facts suggesting that the war hasn’t ended. It may have been finalized in government records and in the international community’s eyes, but the facts are far from true.
-Contributed by Tript
Picture Credits: fairobserver.com