By: T. Manoharan

During the past couple of weeks, the commonplace gossip among the Tamil community - in whispering tones - is the contribution or the lack of it, of the Muslim community towards peace in Sri Lanka.

A grave agitation that has been simmering beneath the surface in the East reared its ugly head over this period. I refer to the inopportune opportunism of the Muslim leadership.

Finally, the peace talk is scheduled to commence in a secure naval base of south eastern Thailand, within the next fortnight. With the advent of fresh Muslim contentions, how safe would it be to predict the outcome of the peace talks? Even though the question is bemusing we have been around for long to understand the reasonableness of this uncertainty.

The only prediction one could safely make on Sri Lankan politics is that nothing is predictable! However, it is harmless to say that majority leaning is not with the hopefuls.

The clamour of the Honourable Minister of Port Development and Shipping is an indication of an awkward development. The peace talk has taken a new dimension with the entry of this third contender.

Let us take a logical path to understand the undercurrents of this poignant development.

The peace talk on the table is to address the grievances the Tamils have long raised with the Governments of Sri Lanka. The Memorandum of Understanding reached between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as the authentic representatives of the Tamil people and the Prime Minister of the country is consequential to Tamil freedom. How does the Minister fit into this picture? One tends to muse upon this a lot!

Is the Minister a representative of the Tamils or of the Government? If he is neither, how and why is he asking for a seat at the proposed parley? With or against whom are his grievances? When did he realise that the Muslims too have grievances with the Sri Lankan authorities?

The Honourable Minister is the Leader of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). The Minister is just one of many in Muslim hierarchy. If he represents his faction, will there be others also, representing the rest of the Muslims?

The peace talk is a deliberation between the Tamils and the Sinhalese and was arranged to settle the demands of the Tamils over the last five decades, with the Sinhala regimes. On which side of this fence is the Minister?

Is it possible for the Minister to represent the Muslim Community without jeopardising the interests of the Administration of which he is a part? If he will be unable to safeguard the interests of the Administration how useful will he be as a Minister? If he thought that the Muslim Community feels neglected by the Government wouldn't he be informing of his concerns to his Cabinet, instead?

Naturally, there is a great fear within the Tamil community that we might earn the displeasure of the Muslim community when we ask all these questions. We hope not. These questions have become relevant with the potentially harmful threat the Minister has created for the Tamils, with his belligerent entry into the peace initiative.

Let us refresh our memory.

It has been long accepted that 'Sinhala Only' was the turning point in the life of Sri Lanka. Every nagging grievance of the Tamil community got aggravated from that day onwards.

There is not a single record indicating that the Muslims ever identified themselves with The Tamil Cause.

Our fight is not about language or religion. Our fight is about the fundamental rights of the Tamil community. Our struggle is about the rational aspirations of the Tamil people.

We are minorities. We steadfastly chose proven democratic avenues all along to air our grievances. Even Tamils in India had agitated in South Indian cities over our freedoms. When did the Muslim leadership lend shoulder to our struggle?

Even the current peace initiative springs from our democratic outlook. We do understand minority grievances. We will agree that the Muslims should be given a fair hearing of their own separate grievances with the Administration.

How does anyone seek a place in the proposed peace talks without having previously chosen any of the preliminary steps? Are the grievances of Muslims overnight developments? If the Muslims have grievances shouldn't they be raising them with the Government as their first step?

We don't pretend to be oblivion to the hardships of the Muslims. The Tamils are not at war with the Muslims. The platform to raise and deal with outside issues should not be confused with the peace talk that is scheduled to begin.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam represent all Tamils. Muslims are Tamils. If they are not, the Government will represent them at the talks.

Tamils do not recall any occasion where a separate community of Muslims have fought either along with or against Tamils. I don't remember any occasion where the Sinhala nationalists persecuted them.

This brings me to a crucial role that the Minister and his mentors have been playing in the saga of Tamil struggle.

Unlike with our leadership, the Sinhalese chauvinists were widely awake when the British colonialists were preparing to leave the country in the hands of the locals. The Sinhalese had their blueprint laid out to confiscate Tamil Eelam. One of the schemes they had hatched was to replicate the art of 'divide and rule' that was well practiced by the colonial masters. Since the dogged days of Independence it was the turn of the Sinhala masters to turn on the screws against the Tamils, with the tacit consent and connivance of the Muslim leadership.

Tamil struggle suffered as a result of a lack of sympathy of the Muslims. Muslim leadership played blind to our concerns. It was this indifference that added justification to Sinhala oppression against Tamils.

The Sinhalese regimes played their hands properly in creating the conditions for possible antagonism between the Muslims and the Tamils. They out favoured the Muslims with Cabinet posts and Economic incentives just to drive a wedge between the two communities. They gave 'divide and rule' a dimension the British would have been envy of!

We were not overly concerned. Our hands were full with our problems and priorities. We were waiting to cross the bridge, but when it arrived.

It is prudent to trace a few steps of Tamil militancy at this juncture.

The Sinhalese bureaucracy was using every avenue at its disposal to suppress dissent among the Tamil community. Locals were bought over with petty rewards to spy on fellow Tamils. Selfish criminals, among them Muslims, were aiding and abetting Sinhala repression. Tamil leadership was putting up a spineless resistance against Sinhala aggravations. Scrupulous and conscientious Tamil youth with a national conscience stepped in.

It was not easy for them. The Police were at their heels. The youth had to maintain a level of secrecy. The antisocial elements in the Tamil community were betraying our heroic youth. Our youth were forced to deal with them first, to stem the erosion of their secrecy. Unfortunately there was not much cooperation from the Muslim community. This is a sad fact.

Tamils are not blaming the Muslims for the position that they took. They have received their dividends through the administrative machinery. The Muslims had been richly rewarded for their loyalty by the Sinhala regimes. They need not loose any sleep over the outcome of the peace talk.

If it dawns on the Muslim leadership that their fortunes are changing the blame should not fall on Tamils or on our leadership.

Tamils have been reasonable even in times of adversity. We are not blaming the Muslims for our misfortunes. Do not lay your misfortunes on our steps. No Muslim ever suffered in the hands of our youth any more than our bad apples.

Tamils are not in a position to assess the needs of the Muslims. We don't run the Government of Sri Lanka. We don't need the help of others to understand the pain and suffering of minority groups under oppressive regimes. We feel the pain of minorities all over. We will certainly feel for the Muslims in a Tamil Eelam. Honest citizens need not fear a Tamil administration. But, for now, the goal of Tamils is to establish our independence from the oppressors.

No Muslim in Tamil territories has suffered more than the Tamils. Trying to stir up emotions among the Muslims for immediate political gains will only make the future of Muslims harder to mend. It is never too late for the Muslim leadership to show solidarity with the Tamil leadership. Freedom for Tamils is freedom for Muslims also.





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