In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tiger terrorist group is in its last throes. Ousted by the Sri Lankan Army from almost all of its “claimed” territories, the militants are now holding on to about 19 square kilometers of land, with about 70,000 Sri Lankan citizens, mostly of Tamil ethnic origin, as their hostages. It is evident that they will be totally routed by the end of this month. [Image above: Sri Lankan troops clamping on LTTE hideouts]
SRI LANKA’S VIOLENT ETHNIC STRIFE
by Ramtanu Maitra
In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tiger terrorist group is in its last throes. Ousted by the Sri Lankan Army from almost all of its “claimed” territories, the militants are now holding on to about 19 square kilometers of land, with about 70,000 Sri Lankan citizens, mostly of Tamil ethnic origin, as their hostages. It is evident that they will be totally routed by the end of this month.
While the U.S. Pacific Command personnel in contact with New Delhi are formulating an evacuation plan for the hostages, London and the European Union are trying to protect the last vestiges of Tiger territory by urging Colombo to work out a ceasefire with the terrorists.
The emergence of violent conflict between the Tamil Sri Lankans and the Sinhala Sri Lankans, which gave birth to the London-backed Tamil Tigers, was yet another product of the British colonial legacy. This ethnic conflict, which has engulfed this little island, and unleashed unlimited violence in the region for almost three decades, is, as in the case of Northeast India, due to the British mindset of the Sri Lankan and Indian leaders involved in “resolving “the crisis.
To begin with, Sri Lanka (then, Ceylon) had the misfortune to be colonized by three brutal European colonial powers—the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British. Nonetheless, it is to the credit of the locals that they withstood these brutes and prevented the break-up of the country.
After the Dutch ceded Sri Lanka in the 1801 Peace of Amiens, it became Britain’s first crown colony. Immediately, the British colonials started setting up the chess pieces. The ruling Kandyan King, of Tamil ancestry, was ousted with the help of local chieftains of Tamil and Sinhala origin. The coup set up the British crown as the new King.
As part of the“divide and rule” policy, the British colonials promoted the Buddhist religion, resulting in the 1817 Uva rebellion. The Buddhist religion was given protection by the Crown, and the people were told that Christianity would not be imposed on the unwilling masses as had happened during Portuguese and Dutch rule. Following the quelling of the rebellion, the British did what they do best: They carried out one of the worst massacres of the 19th Century, wiping out all able-bodied Sinhalese men from the Hill Country, and 80% of the native population of able-bodied, according to one report. The Kandyan Kingdom was the kingdom of both the Tamils and Sinhalas—both these groups came from India to settle on that island.
One specific impact of the British colonial presence was the emergence of English as the local language, undermining both the Sinhala and Tamil languages. According to one historian, the two most important effects observed during British rule were: one, by the start of 20th Century, the English language became the passport to getting employment; and those who had an English education became dominant in Britain’s handcrafted Sri Lankan society. Due to input of the Christian missionaries, more minority Tamils could read and write English, as opposed to the southern Sinhalese and Kandyan Sinhalese.
The other observed impact on Sri Lankan society of British colonial rule, was the reconstituting of the Legislative Assembly. The Assembly of 1921 had 12 Sinhalese and 10 non-Sinhalese, at a time when the Sinhalese constituted more than 70% of the population. Things changed in 1931, when, out of 61 seats, the Sinhalese won 38. This troubled the Tamils, because they had had special privileges under British, and never wanted to accept the dominance of the Sinhalese majority.
In addition, the British also brought to the island a million workers of Tamil ethnic background from Tamil Nadu, and made them indentured laborers in the Hill Country. This was in addition to the million Tamils already living in the provinces, and another million Mappilla Muslims, whose mother tongue is Tamil. Thus, the British sowed seeds of ethnic discord. During the colonial rule, the minority Tamils had a disproportionate representation in the bureaucracy.
THE ROLE OF BRITISH ASSETS IN INDEPENDENT SRI LANKA
However,when in 1948, the British finally left the island, they left behind their assets, in powerful places, many of whom were educated at Oxford-Cambridge, and some of whom had adopted Christianity, on both sides of the ethnic divide London had so carefully created.
Instead of seizing the opportunity to build the nation and set about undoing the misdeeds they were forced to carry out under British rule, beginning in the 1950s, Sinhalese-dominated governments implemented public policies that would institutionalize the majority community’s dominance. Sinhala was declared to be the country’s sole official language; Buddhism was favored as the state religion; and the unitary nature of the state ensured Sinhalese political domination. Major Sinhalese-Tamil riots in 1956, 1981, and 1983 further heightened Tamil insecurities.
Meanwhile, the Tamils began to press for autonomy. Political parties, such as the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), utilized conventional means, which included participating in coalition governments. Militant Tamils, the LTTE, sought the creation of an independent Tamil state, referred to as Tamil Eelam, which would comprise the North and East of the country.
Throughout the 1980s, various Tamil rebel groups engaged in attacks against the Colombo government and its security apparatus. However, the situation worsened on that island because of the British mindset of New Delhi, which made a number of attempts to intervene in the violent Sri Lankan situation. Besides helping the Tamils to get armed training and intelligence, New Delhi, under late-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, deployed around 50,000 Indian peacekeepers (IPKF) in Tamil areas in Sri Lanka to help ensure peace. In return, the Sri Lankan government agreed to devolve power to the North and East through the creation of autonomous provincial councils.
Neither Colombo nor the Tamil militants were sincere about the deal; both were looking at the Indian troops as the barriers against their independent state. The failure of the Indian intervention led to more deaths and the assassination of Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa, and India’s Rajiv Gandhi, among many other high-level Sri Lankan officials, by the terrorist Tamil Tigers.
LONDON: BREAK UP INDIA INTO 100 HONG KONGS
But, the British were in the middle of all this. Besides the fact that the LTTE was headquartered in London, and raising most of its illegitimate funds from Britain and its former colonies in Australia, South Africa, and Canada, within ten days of Gandhi’s death, Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who would be assassinated by the LTTE in May 1993, forced the hasty departure from Sri Lanka of British High Commissioner David Gladstone. The charge was that Gladstone, a descendant of the Victorian-age Prime Minister William Gladstone, was interfering in local election politics. But he had also been criticized earlier for allegedly meeting with known drug traffickers in Sri Lanka. Gladstone, who had previously spent years in the Middle East, was a known British intelligence link to the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, which was involved in training both the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and the LTTE.
Britain’s continuing intent to break up India was also expressed openly in this political context. On May 26, 1991, only five days after the British-controlled LTTE-led assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the Times of London, the premier voice for the British Foreign Office, put forward this view in an editorial entitled “Home Truths”: “There are so many lessons to be learnt from sorrowing India, and most are being muttered too politely. The over-huge federation of almost 900 million people spreads across too many languages, cultures, religions, and castes. It has three times as many often incompatible and thus resentful people as the Soviet Union, which now faces the same bloody strains and ignored solutions as India. . . .
“The way forward for India, as for the Soviet Union, will be to say a great prize can go to any States and sub-States that maintain order without murders and riots. They should be allowed to disregard Delhi’s corrupt licensing restrictions, run their own economic policies, and bring in as much foreign investment and as many free-market principles as they like. Maybe India’s richest course from the beginning would have been to split into 100 Hong Kongs.
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