This post was original written for Colombo Telegraph. You can read it at https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/was-ms-vijayakala-maheswaran-wrong/ and join the discussion as it has a wider audience than my blog.
For most of you, this could be stale news. But I thought of writing this piece even at a later time after Vijayakala Maheswaran’s controversial speech. My first hand experiences in the North since June this year made me write this piece. Being 6 months in the North on and off (at least 3 weeks per each month) won’t be enough for me to come to a right conclusion about the subject but I would report what I saw. I don’t speak Tamil but can manage with the little English I know and sometimes in Sinhala as I found many people I meet in the North can speak some Sinhala. Besides, I think I am good at the universal language, the sign language
I have no connection or whatsoever with the then State Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs, Ms. Vijayakala Maheswaran. I even didn’t know if such one ever existed before her speech came to the limelight. But with all those hullaballoos about her “controversial” speech at Veerasingham Hall Jaffna on July 02, 2018, I thought of reading the full English translation of her speech “for the heck of it.”
Apart from the controversial and illegal part of “reviving the LTTE,” I don’t find anything wrong in what she talked in the rest of her speech. Ms. Maheshwaran must be really lucky not to be in jail for talking about reviving a ruthless terrorist outfit that dragged the country back to the Stone Age, literally. If this speech was made in any other sovereign state, she would have been counting the bars in a cell by now. But Sri Lanka is a funny country with funnier constitution which is less funny than a Kushwant Singh’s sarcastic column! I would refrain from making any comment about judiciary here as, at this age, I don’t have much time left to be in a secluded cell for several years. I have better things to in my life.
About child abuse/rape/killing which Ms. Maheshwaran talks, she is right. It is true these were not committed by the Sri Lankan military but mostly, the people of the neighborhood were the perpetrators. (There are some allegations that Ms. Maheshwaran herself tried to save one such accused of the high school girl Vidya rape and subsequent killing being, I don’t know.) What I do know is that the post-LTTE era has compromised the rigid law and order which had been implemented in the North by the terrorists. So, naturally, maybe the people might think that the “known devil” was better.
It was the same with the extensive substance abuse by the youth and the men at large in the North. The LTTE was trafficking drugs to sustain their organization but they did not sell them in Sri Lanka, well, at least not in the North. Drug trafficking was one of their main ways of illegal fundraising to the so called “liberation struggle” but they ensured the drugs would not make their way to the North. But now, after the conclusion of the bloody war, one can read from the press that large hauls of drugs are being captured by the police and the Special Task Force (STF) in the North and East. I myself have seen numerous times the youth spend hours under street lights in Jaffna just loitering till late hours of the night. I cannot see what they do but I just have a friendly word or two and find most of them are intoxicated. I don’t think this happened during the LTTE era.
Terrorism should be condemned at any level, but didn’t the women in the South themselves kind of “approve” the rigid jungle laws implemented by “Deshapremi Janatha Wyaparaya” – the terrorist unit of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) for that matter? People, especially women, love to see the men being controlled at least by a terrorist outfit if the authorities cannot do their job any better?
I am not a legal expert. But as everyone knows damn well, atrocities were committed from both sides during and the immediate aftermath of the war. There is no point in harping on these forever. A government military has to abide by the international ethics of war no matter how hard it is. They will be forced to retaliate when the opposite happens from a terrorist group. But this is why a state military is trained how to become a professional military. One cannot justify an illegal retaliatory action a state military commits by pointing at a ruthless terrorist or guerrilla group’s heinous acts. This is where the state military has to draw the margin. A terrorist organization has the luxury of ignoring international war ethics. This is why they are called “terrorists.” So, the better thing to do is to forgive and forget. There are allegations and reportedly, hard evidence too, of atrocities committed by both the military and the terrorists according to what I read, hear and see. So, why not we go to a South African model Truth and Reconciliation Commission in which all parties are pardoned and integrated to the society? It is never too late, even after 9 years of conclusion of war.
I am not the best person to comment on Ms. Maheshwaran’s complaint on Thenmaratchi not being named as a separate district. The same is requested for Kalmunai by the Muslim politicians. My personal view is that there are more sensitive things to pay attention on at this stage rather than creating more divisions on demands of this nature. First, let us work on what we can agree, and then the rest. Let’s not complicate things anymore. Enough damage has happened for three decades and let’s forget some of not-so-important issues.
Maybe I am wrong, but I cannot rule out the possibility of a long term plan by the authorities to weaken the youths and the men in the North by getting them addicted to drugs and then their “possible” revival with an armed struggle could be foiled in a cheaper way. This happened to the Chinese under the British rule during colonial times. The British got a huge Chinese population addicted to opium, a mainstream intoxicating drug of the time in mid 1800’s. This is historically known as Opium Wars which compromised China’s territorial sovereignty and cost them the island of Hong Kong. It could happen here too. But, then again, I have never seen any Sri Lankan leader designing such long term plans for anything good or bad. They just want to see the results before the next election comes after 5 years and reap the cheap benefits by that time. So, long term planning is the last thing one could expect from such shortsighted leaders I guess.