Re: “Tamils need real autonomy”says S.J.S. Chhatwal (The Ottawa Citizen) : A response

Asoka Weerasinghe Gloucester, Ontario, Canada

To The Editor (Letters) THE OTTAWA CITIZEN.


It was good to read S.J.S. Chhatwal’s opinion on Sri Lanka who was the High Commissioner in Sri Lanka when the July 1983 riots occurred. However, it needs a response and with it he might want to revise his opinion in case he wishes to extend it once more for Canadian eyes and ears.

Chhatwal says that since Ceylon’s (Sri Lanka) Independence in 1948 that the Tamil minority had faced discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. Sure, when the British left Ceylon the Tamils began to lose their privileges, which they as well as Chhatwal are confused with having lost their rights. The Sinhalese on the other hand viewed the change as a natural and inevitable adjustment which bestowed on them their due share. Two different perceptions of the same phenomenon emerged. The Tamils began to feel that they were discriminated against, and the Sinhalese felt that recent changes simply reversed the discrimination that they had been subjected to during the colonial era. The British old imperial policy of divide and rule had created a ‘privileged minority’ (Tamils) and a ‘ wrong majority’ (Sinhalese) among Ceylon’s communities for 131 years.

The Tamil struggle for autonomy didn’t start after independence. It started in the 1930s with the 10 percent Tamils wanting to govern and control the 74 percent Sinhalese, even proposing a 50-50 policy to the British prior to giving Ceylon its independence. The Lord Soulbury Commission said an emphatic “No” to this insidious ploy, that would have made the majority Sinhalese a minority community and eventually governed by the minority Tamils.

Chhatwal has recognized two categories of Tamils – the “Ceylon Tamils” and the “Indian Tamils”. Yet the ground reality is that the Ceylon Tamils are divided into two sub-categories dissected according to the caste system – the Northern Jaffna Tamils (high caste) and Eastern Batticaloa Tamils (low caste). That is the very reason why Karuna the eastern commander of the Tamil Tigers broke away from Prabhakarans’ Tamil Tigers in 2004, as they found being discriminated by their own ruthless gang of terrorists. This caste-divide is a factor that has to be recognized and addressed when finding a final solution to this separatist problem.

The temporary merger of the North and East provinces to create a “Tamil homeland” was Indira and Rajiv Gandhi’s India’s doing, not that the Sri Lankan government wanted it. Chhatwal was part of that bullying process.

It is disingenuous for Chhatwal to want to bury the history of events where India acted like a stick yielding big-brother “bully boy” over Sri Lanka’s internal affairs in the 1980s.

Indira Gandhi having taken the barefooted Tamil rebels to India after the July 1983 riots to be trained for guerrilla warfare in military action, manufacturing bombs, handling sophisticated shooting weapons, and intelligence gathering, in military camps in Kanjipuram, Anna Nagar, Sengalpattu and Uttar Pradesh in the foot hills of the Himalayas, sent them back as terrorists in infantry-boots, military fatigues and cradling Kalashikovs and festoons of bullets, hand grenades and land mines. Rajiv Gandhi parked two Indian Navy frigates in Sri Lankan water in May 1987, scaring the jeepers out of the Sri Lankan military and politicians that Sri Lanka would be invaded by India.

In an incredible display of bully-boy power politics on a small and weak neighbour, India sent a 20 vessel flotilla of unsolicited “humanitarian” aid to Jaffna Tamils, which was stopped by the Ceylon naval gunboats. That was on June 3, 1987.

A day later, determined to exercise their forced aggression on a weak neighbour, India had four French-built Mirage 2000 bombers streak over Sri Lanka’s northern sky escorting five Soviet-designed Antonov-32 Indian transport planes dropping supplies to various locations for Tamils in the Jaffna peninsula. This was to appease Rajiv Gandhi's regional electorate of 55 million Tamils’ in South India. That act was a naked violation of Sri Lanka’s independence which could not be defended in terms of morality or international law. The fear among the Sri Lankans was that Rajiv Gandhi’s India might invade northern Sri Lanka to help establish a Tamil state, just as his mother Indira Gandhi invaded East Pakistan in 1971, helping to create the independent nation of Bangladesh.

The above scenario of India’s bully-diplomacy, blows away Chhatwal’s thesis to say that, “It was at this stage that the Sri Lankan government approached India for assistance and the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord was signed. ” They were bullied into it and he knows it.

As for “Tamils need real autonomy’, he knows pretty well that India’s initiative in 1987 to reactivate a political dialogue in the process of devolving power at a district level within a unitary state agreed by the Sri Lankan and Indian governments, was rejected by the Tamil Tigers as they hoped to win the war in the battlefield. And fearing that a negotiated settlement would be imposed on them a Tamil Tiger woman suicide bomber assassinated Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991. For Chhatwal not to acknowledge that the Tamil Tigers are only interested in a mono-ethnic, racist, separatist Tamil state, Eelam, for 3.9 percent of Tamils (World Watch statistics 2006) of a population of 20 million, and that too carved out of one-third of Sri Lankan territory bordered by 60 percent of the coast line, is being naïve.

Chhatwal laments that “the recent talks in Geneva between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) did not last more than a day and failed without even touching on any substantive issue.” What did Chhatwaal honestly expect? After eight rounds of failed talks, always curtailed by Tamil Tigers, to expect anything positive from them is wishful thinking. It is enough that Chhatwal’s India had tacitly encouraged the forces of violent separatism in Sri Lanka and even financed and armed Tamil Tiger terrorists that have killed thousands of innocents and 31 moderate Tamil and Sinhalese politicians who promoted a negotiated settlement with a degree of autonomy for the Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka, and rejected outright by the Tamil Tiger terrorists, and to still believe that “Tamils need real autonomy” is the panacea for this burning issue is a difficult proposition to swallow.



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