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Unmaking the Nation: The Politics of Identity and History in Modern Sri Lanka (1995 | 2009).

Pradeep Jeganathan & Qadri Ismail (eds.)

Now in a 2nd Edition, with a new preface, and a comprehensive index.

"Stimulating... Excellent..." -- Journal of Asian Studies. 

"Will be of great value to all those concerned with... nationalism [and] violence..." -- Arjun Appadurai.

"...[F]orces us to think about Sri Lankan symbolic and social formations in an entirely novel fashion." -- Gananath Obeyesekere

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« Running Round the Round Table | Main | Reconfiguring Regional Power »
Wednesday
Feb222012

Facing the Bitter Truth

Dr. (Ms.) Sudarshini Fernandopulle, UPFA MP, and widow of slain senior UPFA minister Jeyaraj, has my deep sympathy for her loss, during the war. Her husband was blown up by a LTTE suicide bomber. Nevertheless, my sympathy extends also to all victims of the war, and I worry quite bit about her recent statement, “I must specifically mention I have no faith in the LLRC or its report… They have forgotten the victims of LTTE terrorism”. I do disagree with this characterisation of the LLRC report, but the point of my column this week is not to examine the report as such.

Rather it is to reiterate, as I have been doing for some time now, that we should remember and memorialise all the victims of our long war, and in so doing, also remember and understand that deep divisions and questions between communities existed before the war, and may continue after, if not addressed. Again, I’ve suggested how we might address the question of sharing power between the provinces in two earlier columns - by providing each province with equal representation in an apex body that is responsible for fiscal disbursements.

Today, I would like addressing not only this idea that the victims of the LTTE are somehow greater than that of another, but also, the pervasive idea that indeed, the only problem between communities this country ever had was the ‘terrorist’ problem. Advocates of this position, have a kind of amnesia, they seem to think that before the existence of the LTTE as armed militant group, all was well in Sri Lanka.

Rethink or relive history
This position needs to be rethought, and urgently, for else, we will soon relive history, which is the fate of those who forget it. In many ways, it is well worth comparing democratic voting patterns in the Northern Province, now, after 30 years of bloody war, with the voting of 1977. Indeed there have been population shifts, deaths, injuries and massive migrations of settled families to other parts of Sri Lanka and overseas, but yet, one does not have to play around with the numbers, make pie chart or a two decimal place table to realise that over half the voters then and now, voted for a party that ran for election, be it parliamentary or local government, on the platform of separation or regional autonomy.
When I was making this argument to an intelligent young person recently, he said, ‘oh no, but way back in 1977, we had terrorism in Jaffna, so you really can’t count those results, can you?’ This historical amnesia or ignorance is now extraordinarily widespread in the South. Many, many people believe it was the ‘terrorists’ who made good Jaffna Tamils to vote for separation by holding guns to their heads. Really? This is where we are confused. It’s a hard truth. A bitter pill for anyone who loves their country like I do, but that love will not let me rewrite history.

People’s verdict
Any observer of elections will tell you that the 1977 elections were really the last, undisputedly free and fair election we ever had. Period. And the TULF swept the boards in the North. Yes, not in the East, and I didn’t say East. In the Northern Province, their nominees were winners by huge majorities. There was no violence to speak of in the run-up to these elections or during them. The results reflect the people’s verdict.

An argument then can be advanced in opposition here: it’s a just small percentage of the total votes cast in the whole country. True. But we miss something here. They are and still are, a majority where they live, and it is a province. My opponents in argument here must remember that in Quebec or even Northern Ireland, for example, half the population never voted or expressed the view in polls that separation was for them. Scotland is due for such a referendum. What rest of the Britons or the Canadians thinks here matters, but it doesn’t simply trump a regional issue. Regional discontent matters; if the centre can not address it fails to hold. This is the lesson of our history we will do well to remember it.
Many, who oppose this view presented here, will well remember the Eastern wing of the LTTE, or what used to be called the Karuna faction, which later became the TMVP breaking away from the LTTE. Wasn’t it the very same thing? There is a reason, dear readers, a historical reason that the eldest son of the sovereign of the United Kingdom is the Prince of Wales and the Sovereigns consort is the Duke of Edinborough. Let’s think on that a moment. Why? Origins of these practices are buried in the past, but they are attempts to unite that Kingdom.

Now such superficialities won’t work here, we need a much more robust solution that does not simply assume that all our problems were and are produced the bad LTTE and its proxies.

Published in print in the Nation on Sunday, 12th Feb., 2012

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Reader Comments (1)

"Rather it is to reiterate, as I have been doing for some time now, that we should remember and memorialise all the victims of our long war, and in so doing, also remember and understand that deep divisions and questions between communities existed before the war, and may continue after, if not addressed".

Could not agree more...
March 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGillian Sathanandan

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