|The Fruits of Anguish|
|Wednesday, 13 August 2008|
A meditation on the anniversary of the deaths of Lakshman Kadirgamar and Kethesh Loganathan
by: Prof. Rajiva WijesinhaIf July 1983 is remembered as the darkest episode in recent Sri Lankan history, August 12th should be seen as the saddest day in terms of the deaths of individuals. On August 12th 2005 Lakshman Kadirgamar, Foreign Minister and potential Prime Minister, was killed by the LTTE. He had, since his entry into Sri Lankan politics, managed to reverse the dark image of Sri Lanka that July 1983 had created. He also did much to correct the image of the LTTE as the sole representatives of oppressed Tamils that they had developed after their resistance to the Indian Peace Keeping Force. That the IPKF had been dragooned by LTTE intransigence into a war no one else wanted was forgotten, in the brilliant propaganda the LTTE has engaged in from the time the Indian army marched against them. Faced with an individual who could put a case better, who understood Indian imperatives whilst being unequivocally Sri Lankan in mind and heart, the LTTE eliminated him.
One year after Mr Kadirgamar was killed, the LTTE also got rid of Kethesh Loganathan, former Tamil militant, by then Deputy Secretary General of the Peace Secretariat. He had been one of those who re-entered democratic politics with the Indo-Lankan Accord of 1987 and, unlike some others who subsequently went over to the Tigers, through conviction or despair as their comrades were eliminated by them, he remained opposed to the LTTE.
Thus he was disillusioned with the Centre for Policy Alternatives, which he had served faithfully from its inception practically, when it seemed that that once distinguished institution had gone down the slippery slope of appeasement following the 2002 Ceasefire. He therefore went, astonishingly it seemed for those who had followed his early career, but understandably given his always coherent political outlook, his concern with the deprived, into the service of the current government. As Deputy at the Secretariat, he was responsible for some of the most profound critiques of Tiger pretensions written, when he demolished their claims to being the sole representatives of the Tamil people. His reward for that was death.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
Significantly, August 12th had many years previously seen another example of Tiger intolerance, of their determination to eliminate alternatives, to strengthen the monolith. This was their murder of Muslims in Eravur, the signal that what had originally begun as a struggle to win dignity for Tamil speaking citizens had turned into an assertion of the absolute will of particular Tamils. The incident is engraved on my mind, for when I visited the East soon afterwards, my Muslim students insisted on taking me to the site of the massacre. My sympathy was compounded by the fact that their state of mind was similar to that of the Tamil students I had taught at Jaffna University in 1981, who had insisted on taking me to the burnt out shell of the Jaffna Public Library.
So much anguish. Anguish that so easily turns into an instrument to create further anguish. It was difficult for me to understand, having been a member of a privileged elite from birth. Even when I was a member of a minority, at university, it was in a context that celebrated individuality and diversity, so that one had no worries at all about being different, indeed pushing that envelope to its limits. But after 1981, I began to try to understand more about the diffidence of the underdog, to assess the writings of Forster and Paul Scott in those terms, in their depiction of the Indian at bay in the context of British domination. And I began to understand the need to compensate for that sense of deprivation, the obligation on the powerful to ensure the dignity of the individuals with whom they dealt.
Sri Lanka's former Minister of Foreign Affairs - Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar
All this came home to me with a vengeance, thinking as I was about Kethesh, struck by the remembrance of Eravur that had also appeared in the press, when I saw the interview given by the Indian National Security Advisor M, K, Narayanan in which he referred to the ‘sullenness in the Tamil man’, the fact that it was necessary to ‘give Tamils a feeling they have a right to their own destiny’. His point is unquestionable that, for those who have suffered, it is vital that they do not feel deprived of their self worth.
Sadly, for reasons that have to do also with Indian interventions in the past, the training of the Tigers (though that was not exclusive, and it was not India’s responsibility that the Tigers turned out the most able fighters) and then more crucially the martyrdom the Tigers took upon themselves in resisting the IPKF, the self worth of Sri Lankan Tamils (and the few now amongst Indian Tamils who still resent their own position as a minority) was tied up with the Tigers. More sadly, though India soon enough learned its lesson, successive Sri Lankan governments continued to subscribe to the vision of themselves the Tigers had set up. Even though in time they too realized their mistake, they did nothing to change the framework.
Mr. Kethesh Loganathan
Former Deputy Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
This government has succeeded in doing that, but it has to do more if it is to remove the tie between Tamil dignity and the Tigers. It must work towards ensuring that other Tamil politicians, the democratic pluralists who have shown such courage in recent months, are able to embody Tamil aspirations.
This should not be difficult. After all, the vital word pluralist is amply justified by the recent election in the East, which has led to a ruling coalition in which all elements are represented. This is an emphatic contrast with 1988 when, it will be remembered, the Provincial Council consisted of a Tamil governing party and a Muslim opposition. The Muslim and Sinhala Ministers were mere tokens, and realized as much very soon. This time, however, there is parity between the groups in both government and opposition, while thankfully the leader of the Province is Tamil, primus inter pares, a position that was essential if dignity was to be ensured for people who had suffered so much violence from the state as well as themselves.
With such a pluralist party in power, it would be churlish to allow the exercise of power only as a gift. It is a right that should be honoured. And this can be done safely because, as Mr. Narayanan so tactfully put it, the right to their own destiny is not as regards everything, but simply ‘in many matters’. Given the understanding that there must be limitations, understanding that Karuna and Pillaiyan and Mr. Devananda and Mr. Siddharthan and Mr. Anandasangaree have all displayed, it is the responsibility of the greater authority to ensure that rights and dignity are preserved.
Not only in memory of Lakshman Kadirgamar and Kethesh Loganathan, not only for the sake of the Muslims who suffered earlier in the cycle of violence that started with state brutality in the eighties, but also for the sake of the Sri Lankan polity, we need to ensure greater empowerment now for those who have been deprived of it in the past. Such empowerment is not only a matter of political structures, it must involve greater emphasis on language rights, on fairer employment policies, on social structures that emphasize commonalities rather than differences. It must also look at the deprived amongst the majority, though recognizing that they have not suffered from the communal belittling, whatever their other problems, that the minorities have endured.
If we remain aware of all this, of the need to compensate and empower, we can benefit from this unique opportunity to serve all our people well. If we fail now, we will deserve the endless anguish that will be inflicted upon us all in turn.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
|Last Updated ( Monday, 09 March 2009 )|
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