Why we all must support the 13th amendment?
By azad•March 29, 2008••Comments : 5
“It is important to point out, that there is in fact a clause, which states that, if one or two provinces wanted to join they could do so with the presidential recommendations. So, why would one want to reject the proposal before having it tested and before seeing how it worked out in practice? Rome was not built in one day! Start with one step and make progress with time.”
by Rajeswary Balasubramaniam- London
(March 29, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) The 13th amendment implementation for the North and East is currently creating much turmoil and controversy both, in Sri Lanka and in the diaspora. Politically, it is groups of vocal activists abroad, plus the pro-LTTE Tamil parliamentarians with their 22 seats and the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peremuna) in Sri Lanka who oppose the implementation. The United Party and its leader Mr. Wickramsinghe support it. Some opposition to a peace settlement also comes from members of the Sinhala majority community.
Tamils in the diaspora consider the 13th amendment a waste of time since it falls short of fulfilling aspirations for a completely separate Tamil state, by contrast, Sinhala opponents consider it to be too much of a concession to Tamil separatism. What, however, are the views of ordinary Tamils in the homeland, who are actually bearing the brunt of the on-going conflict?
Tamil People in the Sri Lankan war zone
On the 20th of February 2008, a delegation from London that supports the 13th amendment visited Jaffna and the region in the North. Driving along the several miles long stretch from the Palaly airport to the city of Jaffna we were struck by the changes. The red soiled land where vegetables and fruit were once cultivated in abandon, now lay barren and empty. The whole area seemed devoid of human activities. Reaching Jaffna, it was shocking to see the extent to which this city, once full of life, was ravaged by years of war. Gone were those colourful streets and markets buzzing with life and people, gone the signs of thriving and prospering communities and businesses. Instead, we saw a city full of ruins and shattered, empty homes. Those few who dared to venture out onto the streets seemed in a great hurry. There were roaming bands of young soldiers everywhere, with a fear of death jittering in their eyes. Road blocks and soldiers combined to make the freedom of movement severely restricted. The place was eerie like a ghost town.
My mind turned to the past, and to the Jaffna I knew and had heard about. Jaffna people had a reputation for being ambitious, always thriving to have more of everything: more education, better housing, more income, new temples, better libraries, better schools, etc. Jaffna people recognized that knowledge was power and they had plenty of it. This was an area that once prided itself of being the most highly educated society in the whole of the South Asian region. Jaffna people were considered the brains of Sri Lanka, they headed and managed the civil services with strict adherence to a code of conduct which ensured that the system worked immaculately. They collaborated with Mr Senanayake – the first Prime minister of Sri Lanka, and planned the economic development for the country. The Jaffna Tamils even produced Sir Pon Ramanathan who fought for the rights of the Sinhalese.
How different things were now. The ‘aura’ everywhere in Jaffna seemed dark and bleak Where once people held their heads up high, they were now bowing them down with resigned humiliation in their eyes, as they reached for charity donations of food and clothes. The expression in the faces around us was sad and filled with grief. People looked forlorn and lonely. This community is having to face tragedies on an almost daily basis, dear ones shot by security forces, others abducted by the white vans. The fit and able have fled the soil of Jaffna. It is the poor, weak and vulnerable people that were left behind. Only a few people are able to give them assistance, and fewer still, who dare speak out on their behalf. No wonder then, that all the people we met, expressed their despair and pleaded for someone to do something to bring peace and a normal life to the country. Everywhere people said they wanted the war to stop. People long for a normal life: to be able to send their children to school without fear of abduction, to have ordinary jobs and careers, to run businesses, go shopping and care for their families. A well respected Tamil person in Jaffna told us:
”People want food, shelter, security and the freedom to move about. People have no real political representation in Jaffna, they do not know where to go for help. People are scared about the situation. We are in the war zone, without the basics to survive. You the diaspora are talking about peace? Ask even these soldiers here, they too want peace, they do not want to be in this situation forever. We all want peace, it’s the lasting solution. Every government promises something, but nothing ever happens. People have no trust in anyone. LTTE have no head way (legitimate authority / leadership?????????)
. You, in the diaspora keep beating the war drum. They’ve created this situation and are continuing to do so, leading to the complete destruction of our society and traditions. I, and the people here do not like violence, nor do we seek violence. Those who take the sword will one day die from the sword. Innocent people are dying in the name of freedom. Peace does not create an enemy. We all need peace!”.
Out of a population of 600.000 in Jaffna, 1 in 6 have been internally displaced. 85.000 people have no jobs. Mental health issues and suicides are on the increase. The situation is similar in the other Tamil areas. There are 26.000 Tamils in the East still waiting for resettlement.
Added to all the hardship in Jaffna, is the fact that there is a 20% price increase on food which now has to be imported to the North. There are not enough doctors to treat the sick, higher education departments are short of teachers, and so on.
Since January 2006, the death toll of Tamils stands around 5.000, a high number of these were recorded in the North. Some are now wondering, whether this high level of killing might be the punishment meted out by the security forces and their shadowy friends on the Tamil people who, because of the LTTE ban, did not dare vote in the presidential election for fear of reprisals.
The 13th Amendment
The implementation of the 13th amendment is a vital issue in Sri Lanka at present, as it offers Tamils the chance to govern their region with a considerable degree of autonomy. The 13th amendment is born out of the Indian Accord with the UNP (United National Party) government in 1987, when the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) came to Sri Lanka to resolve the national conflict. It is roughly based on the Indian model regarding regional governance. In fact, the details of the 13th amendments are actually more favourable towards Tamils, than the Indian system would have been. For example, the official language in Mumbay is Marathi and the Tamils there are required to learn the Marathi language in Mumbay schools, whereas in Sri Lanka there are Tamil school for Tamil children everywhere in the country. Equal prominence is assured for the Tamil language alongside Sinhala, with English designated as the link language (as is again the case in India).
The opponents for the implementation of the 13th amendment argue that it doesn’t offer the Tamils enough. The 13th amendment is already in the constitution, chopping and changing it, is not appropriate. Also, there is no provision for a North and East merger in the present 13th Amendment. The government should govern the country based on the constitution and should do so without delay. The implementation process raised some questions too: why the need for an election or for an interim government?
It is important to point out, that there is in fact a clause, which states that, if one or two provinces wanted to join they could do so with the presidential recommendations. So, why would one want to reject the proposal before having it tested and before seeing how it worked out in practice? Rome was not built in one day! Start with one step and make progress with time.
13th amendment offers a framework for the future. The proposal is for a temporary merger between the North and East, with a referendum to be held in a year’s time to get the mandate from the people of the North and the East. The document includes plans for the development of the systems of health, education, agriculture, transport, rehabilitation, re- settlement, as well as the setting up of new industries. People opposing the plan, tend to ignore the fact that th 13th Amendment is already successfully implemented in eight out of nine provincial administrations in Sri Lanka. Most recently, as a result of the recent elections in the East, democratic processes and systems are being established there. The right of having a civil administration, is only denied to the Tamils in the North, because the LTTE is trying hopelessly to hold out for a completely separate state, their old dream of a Tamil Eelam.
The JVP’s fear that giving provincial autonomy and power to the Tamils may open the path to separatism and Indian influence is also unfounded. The election in the East shows that there is no separatism developing and the provincial administration is fully accepted by the local population. The JVP is supposed to campaign for the poor and underprivileged. and yet it seems to be playing the tune sung by the arm dealers, who want to continue making a fat profit. Tamils are oppressed and underprivileged, why is the JVP so harsh on them?
For the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, assisting the government to implement the 13th amendment is the chance to be free from the autocratic control of LTTE, a chance to set up a democratic civil system, and to rebuild the Tamil community, the area’s infra-structure, the land, its towns and the country as a whole.
Diaspora Tamil community and the LTTE
LTTE depends on the financial and political support from the Tamil diaspora, people who hold British, American, Canadian, Australian, French, German, etc. passports guaranteeing them safety and freedom. It appears that some like to gain moments of fame and recognition through their vocal and financial support to the Tigers from a safe distance. Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, the LTTE is on the run by all accounts. They are on the way out, their forces exhausted as there are no more Tamil teenagers left to be rounded up and abducted into the battle fields.
State oppression is on the increase, since anyone can be suspected of being a supporter of the LTTE. The country is spending more and more money on the war every year, which is delaying the development of the country. As elsewhere in the world, it would not be surprising to discover that the continuing chaos in the country is partly fuelled by those who gain most from it, i.e. the arm dealers and the opportunists. Western arms companies and producers are getting rich, whilst the young people of Sri Lanka are dying like flies in the heat of the battle fields. Some have escaped to other countries working as cleaners and other menial jobs, whereas youngsters in other South Asian countries, such as India, are working in IT, in businesses, administration, schools, etc..
Ensuring. Sri Lanka is a small country and has surely had more than its share of being battered, bruised, tormented, during so many years of war and conflict
The majority of Tamils in the diaspora community are peace loving and refuse to get involved with or support such separatist campaigns. Yet, it seems that the dream of a Tamil Eelam will remain alive among some members in the Tamil diaspora. Campaigning for separatism has become an integral part of their exiled life. Whether as part of peace, human rights or community organisations, they themselves of course, are able to live a comfortable life and send their children to colleges and universities. They do not have to live a life of constant fear and deprivation in Sri Lanka’s war zones.
What moral right do people, who are free, safe and doing fairly well have to support a situation which means thousands of people in their homeland are killing and getting killed, maimed, tortured, and women and young girls getting raped. Would the diaspora community allow their own kids into the war zone? If not, why is it alright to ask others to suffer and sacrifice their lives?
Why support the LTTE? The LTTE’s ideology and ‘working’ methods does not resemble anything found within other liberation movements and struggles in the world. How can threatening and killing your own people who are suspected of not towing the line be progressive or liberating? How can the expulsion of people purely because of their different beliefs be progressive? Is it not ironical, that the diaspora communities are enjoying the benefits of a diverse and multi-cultural society in their adopted countries, whilst accepting an organisation that expelled around 100.000 Muslims from Jaffna and that continuously pours out hatred against Sri Lanka’s Sinhala people.
Moreover, do those holding out for a Tamil Eelam really think it can practically be achieved? How does one draw a map separating the Muslim, Tamil and Sinhala communities in the East? Do those who campaign in the diaspora ever think about the Tamil people living in the south of Sri Lanka? They continue to live there peacefully among the Singhalese community. (At least this is the case most of the time. Clearly, they are not happy when corrupt security servicemen ask for protection money, or go ‘LTTE hunting’ amongst them in order to earn themselves some extra pocket money!). How would a border fence be put up from Point Pedro to Pottuvil? Do they really think it is realistic for Tamils (who make up 3.9% of Sri Lanka’s poplulation) to claim for itself 35% of the island’s land and 65 % of its coastal area (as shown in the Tamil Eelam map)? How likely is it, that India will support Eelam and the LTTE, given that its leadership includes Pirapakaran, who allegedly killed the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi?
The dream for a Tamil Eelam for the Tamils will never happen. This dream began to evaporate when they killed Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu, it dissipated when the LTTE wiped out the other organisations and went on a manhunt, it disappeared out of the window, when the conspirators split the East from the North and this dream of an independent state finally ended when the Eastern commander Karuna walked out from the LTTE’s jungle.
The Way Forward
When the delegates from London met the Hon. Karu Jayasuriya (Minister for Public Administration and Home Affairs), he explained the development programme in the Vakarai areas, where thousands of people were displaced during the ‘reclaiming’ East War in late 2006. Hundreds of houses have been built, sanitary services installed and telephone services connected. Also in the East, the police force has undergone training with 300 new recruits added.
The land issue needs to be discussed with urgency, as there are thousands of people displaced in the North East of the country. Mr Karu Jayasuriya commitment to a new society prompted him to abandon his party and join the SLFP government. He and the government have made steady progress towards creating a base for a more democratic and re-constructed society.
This amendment will be the catalyst for many changes to come for the nation as a whole. The country has the culture and is capable of building things even without importing many goods. The country folk have a holistic approach to life. There are already towns and villages where members of all three communities are living side by side and are helping each other. It seems the poor know better the value of living together, than do the rich and privileged.
Given their knowledge, skills and abilities, Tamil people should be entitled to their democratic and human right to rebuild their lives, their homes and their society. Whoever opposes the implementation of the 13th amendment, betray the hopes of the people who want to rebuild their future.
Tamils and all the people in Sri Lanka long for peace and an end to the armed conflict which has been raging for twenty five years or more. Being united with our country folk will bring hope and prosperity to all communities. To fail to grasp this opportunity will certainly bring more wealth for the arm dealers and profiteers, but it will cause continued suffering among all peoples in Sri Lanka, especially the Tamils!, so, please campaign to support the implementation of the 13th amendment.
(Rajeswary Balasubramaniam, MA(medical anthropology, BA(Hons-Film &Video),RGN, RSCN, Cert in Health Ed. She also author of 18 books and Founder member and the chair person for Tamil refugee action group 85–89, Founder member and a chair person for Tamil Housing association 85-89, Founder member and the chair woman for Tamil women’s league from 1982 ,Founder member and a chair person for London Tamil literary forum from 2005. Presently she lives in London.)
– Sri Lanka Guardian