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Can Lanka rise from the ashes of July 1983 – EDITORIAL

24 July 2023 12:03 am – 0      – 74

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Today July 24, we remember with sadness one of the most shameful days in our more recent history. A day when the lawfully elected government of the country permitted hooligans and thugs carrying address lists of Tamil citizens living in Colombo to kill, burn homes, loot and destroy Tamil-owned places of business. The murder and arson followed the ambush of thirteen soldiers by the Liberation tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The forces of law and order standing idly by, while mayhem was wrought, points to government involvement.

The mayhem was no sudden or unexpected event. Tensions had been building up. The then government which had won a landslide victory at the parliamentary elections was facing a number of problems as it attempted to turn the country’s economic system from a closed economy into an open economy.
University student unions were up in arms citing fears for the free education system. Trade unions were demanding higher wages, whilst at the same time Tamil political parties were calling for the setting up of a separate state in the north and east.

To deal with the growing problems, members of the governing party began rousing racial animosity among the Sinhalese, charging that Tamils were trying to divide the country and the protesters were aiding Tamil aspirations.
Having successfully used the tool of racism to put down student protests and crushing workers unions in July 1980, government used the media and sections among the religious to create the spectre of a Tamil bogeyman. On the other side of the divide, Tamil politicians too played the racial card.

Meanwhile hit-and-run attacks on isolated police stations by the LTTE  were portrayed as attacks by Tamils against Sinhalese people.
By June, isolated attacks on Tamil civilians began occurring in the south in the aftermath of bodies of soldiers killed in the north or east being returned to villages.  Unfortunately no action was taken against the perpetrators -creating an air of impunity.

The killing of thirteen soldiers at Thinnaveli provided the spark which ignited the tinder box and put in motion the planned attacks on Tamil civilians which followed.
While the media highlighted attacks by the LTTE on soldiers, little or no prominence was given to the fact that Sinhalese civilians in the north were not physically harmed during this time.
Nor was any space given to the fact that a major militant group -the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamileelam (PLOTE) an arch rival of the LTTE- was at the same time in communication with several Sinhalese political formations, calling for a linking of ordinary Sinhalese and Tamils to unite and overthrow the Jayawardene-led government which was oppressing both the Sinhalese and Tamil people.

Later, militants of the LTTE began attacking Sinhalese civilians. It is a matter of shame that Tamil parliamentarians, like the then government in power, did not condemn the atrocities.
Today, after the military defeat of the LTTE, many political problems which led to the ethnic war have as yet, not been addressed.

President Wickremesinghe has suggested implementing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, minus police powers as provided for in that Amendment as a starting point.
R. Sampathan senior-most Tamil politician in parliament and leader of the now split TNA, rejected the proposal outright. However the other Tamil political parties which were part of the TNA earlier, have split from the grouping and have come together as the -DTNA (Democratic Tamil National Alliance).
Sources within the new grouping (all of whom are parliamentarians) have indicated that the dialogue needs to continue; and the president’s proposal cannot be simply rejected. The group will be meeting shortly to take a decision on the issue.

For too long the Tamil people have been held captive by authoritarian groups like the LTTE, the diaspora and politicians who fearfully followed LTTE diktat. The newer generation of Tamil parliamentarians, are members of non LTTE political parties.
Their willingness to join the political mainstream to sort out long-standing political problems, bodes well for the country. Hopefully this will signal a new beginning for Lankan politics.

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