Remembering Sivaram Dharmeratnam–an alternative viewpoint

April 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Colombo Telegraph carries the lecture by Sivaram’s friend, Mark P.Whitaker, a professor of anthropology at the University of South Carolina, Aiken, at a commemoration for Sivaram in April 2010 in London, UK.

I add my comments and give an alternative viewpoint to the one commonly held by many of Sivaram’s friends and many in the Tamil community.

Sivaram’s murder happened while CBK ( Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge) was still President, so she should be asked to explain it. After all, when Vijaya Kumaratunge was alive, Sivaram had been to her home (not sure if this was in the process of getting a safe house for himself or providing a safe house to Dayan Jayatilleka).

Whitaker of course gives his perspective as Sivaram’s friend, but it is incomplete. Though Sivaram had prodigious talent and was well-read, he had his many flaws and was sometimes wrong on critical issues.

Back in the early 2000’s I met him right after he had been invited to Washington DC by Teresita Schaffer. I told him I was skeptical about the claims among my fellow Tamils as well as by Sivaram himself, that the LTTE was a fully capable conventional force, as they didn’t have any air power and not even enough artillery. I told him that the GoSL could take the LTTE by surprise in the Vanni if they committed enough forces and were prepared to accept high casualties. He pooh-poohed it. We all know how it turned out in the end.

Sivaram carried himself as a well-known ‘military analyst’ and wasn’t prepared to accept contrary views from those of us in science and engineering who didn’t have a public record of writings, but nonetheless read widely and had exposure to SL politics from childhood. His friendship with Whitaker and his exposure to some academics in anthropology had given him a bloated sense of himself in the academic realm, but South Carolina, Aiken, is relatively unknown in US academics, even in the arts. In fact, at that time, I hadn’t even known that such a university existed.

Moreover, he carried a lot of secrets and was somewhat disingenuous. For instance, he was a major figure in both the political and military wings of the PLOTE, as Whitaker confirms in his speech. But when I asked about the internal killings within PLOTE—such as that of the early militant Santhathiyar whom I had met at a TULF election meeting when I was a child–he would say he didn’t know. But of course he knew it all. And when I pointed out to him about his earlier anti-LTTE writings being in conflict with his then pro-LTTE writings, he would simply shrug. To me, the fact that most of his close friends (some of them drinking buddies)—DJ, Rajpal Abeynayake, Chandraprema—would turn out to be pathetic Rajapaksa sycophants with deep character flaws, is evidence enough of Sivaram’s own character flaws.

The reason I care is that had Sivaram and many others maintained their independence from the LTTE, and rationally counseled Tamil society at large about the LTTE’s deep flaws, even military weaknesses, the tragedy of Tamil ‘Hiroshima’ in the Vanni might well have been avoided, though given the LTTE leader’s deep psychological makeup, we could never be certain. But what we saw instead was drunken self-regard, and in Whitaker’s words, pleasure in ‘baiting’ others.

Pope Francis on unfettered capitalism

December 8, 2013 Leave a comment

I  have never  been convinced by the claims of any religions, and I have always argued that there is no evidence of any God.   But assuming for the moment that a religion, say Christianity, holds truth,  then the question arises whether the people following that religion remain faithful to its teachings without hypocrisy. In this, I have always found that “free market” capitalism is incompatible with religions. Christianity is especially incompatible with free market capitalism.

So it is heartening to note that the  first non-European Pope is boldly speaking about unfettered capitalism.

The Pope’s message has outraged many American conservative Christians,  for whom free market capitalism is a moral  part of their religion. But when one accepts  the basic teachings of Christianity, the Pope is undoubtedly right.

American conservatives try to wiggle out of the problem by saying that the Pope is ignorant of economics, and that he should stick to spirituality; this exposes the contradictory emotions that many  Christians wedded to market capitalism feel toward the new Pope.  Such conservatives forget that once they accept the teachings of Christianity, it speaks for every aspect of life, including economics. Many religious people try to keep their greed and pursuit of material things  in a separate compartment from their religiosity,  and assume that it absolves them  of the charge of hypocrisy; that they have no need to reconcile their way of life to the  basic teachings of their professed faith.

This fundamental problem–a lack of integrity– afflicts people of all religious faiths.

It is far more moral to hold that there is no evidence of any God, that religions have no way of revealing the truth; and then argue that, though unfettered capitalism needs to be refined and  regulated,  there is no other economic system that provides enough individual freedoms, or leads to wider prosperity.   Regulating and refining capitalism  is a process of ongoing trial and error, requiring individuals  and governments to be more proactive, for instance,  in challenging the prices of goods and services, or asking for more transparency on the true costs of production.

Thus an agnostic’s way of life– using reason and being open to new ideas, but not accepting any religious dogma–maintains integrity; it does not involve blatant hypocrisy that is the hallmark of religious faiths.

Understanding Sampanthan’s speech at the ITAK convention

June 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Mr. R. Sampanthan, the leader of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK, aka the Federal Party), gave a fine speech at the party’s national convention held in Batticaloa recently. His speech has raised the hackles of the opinion-makers in the Sinhalese community.

Let us put some context for understanding Sampanthan’s speech: the elected leaders of the Government of Sri Lanka remain war criminals; they continue to indulge in abductions and extrajudicial killings; more than 3 years after the brutal war, the larger Sinhalese polity says Tamils have no grievances, that they already have equal rights, and insists that Tamils should continue to live in a unitary Sri Lanka in a subservient position, where the Sinhala language and Buddhism will continue to enjoy constitutionally protected primacy, and where the government can arbitrarily dispossess, arrest, detain, or disappear Tamil people at will.

None of that is worth getting exercised over; after all, thousands of Tamils were slaughtered in the name of counter insurgency– what is just another abduction and killing of a Demala? But an aging Tamil leader who has no choice but to go through the charade of talks with war criminals because of the oppressive power they enjoy, as well as pressure from international community, decides to speak some truth to power, and presto, look at how people are exercised!

What Tamils need today is not a condescending political solution from war criminals and their sycophants. They need justice, dignity and security. As long as these are missing, Tamil people will continue to articulate their aspirations; while the majority of Tamils do not want secession in their hearts, they know from experience that the Sinhalese polity at large will not even agree to a substantive political solution within a united Sri Lanka.

How will people who say the 13th amendment is already too much, ever agree to federalism, for instance? Tamil people at large have no illusions about it; it is only the international community that continues to indulge in wishful thinking about the GoSL. It is that point that Sampanthan is articulating. And if the Sinhalese polity doesn’t prove that deeply held conviction among Tamils wrong, even at a late stage within a reasonable time, Tamils are entitled to think aloud about secession as long as they remain steadfastly non-violent.

Sampanthan is simply implying—
1. Talks with the GoSL has remained a charade because the GoSL is a regime of war criminals that simply wants to continue the status quo.
(Though some Sinhalese say the JHU is a fringe party, the Rajapaksas have embraced them, and point to their opposition to political solution to maintain the status quo. And the Sinhalese polity does not get exercised about it; rather, it continues to support this criminal regime with gusto.)
2. ITAK as a responsible party should still counsel patience and try to work out a solution within a united Sri Lanka even if it is Tamils’ belief that the GoSL will never grant anything substantive even within a united Sri Lanka; saying secession will remain a longer term option is just to tell the hardline elements that, though they may have truth on their side, they shouldn’t do anything violent out of frustration, and still give the Sinhalese polity and the international community a chance.

So, I see no contradiction in Sampanthan’s speech.

Thoughts on the US-backed UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka

March 31, 2012 Leave a comment

So, India made a volte-face at the last moment, and voted for the US-backed resolution against Sri Lanka. Does that mean India has made a fundamental policy shift in no longer whitewashing crimes committed by the Rajapaksa regime?

I think the answer is no. Soon after the resolution was passed, Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, sent an apologetic letter to Rajapaksa, downplaying the impact of the resolution. Not only is it rather unbecoming of the PM of a country of more than a billion people that aspires to be counted as a major power at the UN Security Council, but it also shows that Indian complicity in Sri Lanka’s war crimes, as I have argued previously on this blog, is too strong for India to distance itself fully from the atrocities of the Rajapaksa regime of Sri Lanka.

Reports in the Indian media on what prompted the GoI to change course are contradictory. The Hindu quoted a senior military advisor to the Indian National Security Council as saying that it was a calculated move by Indian government as the GoSL hadn’t done enough to keep its promises to India; but Joyti Malhotra of The Times of India reports that the decision to vote for the resolution was made by Sonia Gandhi at the highest level, after Tamil Nadu leaders of her Congress party told her of the emotions in the state following the British CH4 documentary showing the executed body of the 12-year old child of Velupillai Prabhakaran. Whichever version is true, India’s actions have hardly been honorable, and its subsequent groveling before Lanka’s war criminals, pathetic. The US has taken a more principled stand on the issue; though there is a grain of truth in what some commentators say as the motive of the US–that is, to contain Chinese influence in Sri Lanka–there is nothing wrong with it if it is in the service of spreading democracy and freedom.

Meanwhile, DBS Jeyaraj in his latest column writes about Ms. Tamara Kunanayakam, the Sri Lankan ambassador to the UN in Geneva, who protested the US resolution strongly under an anti-imperialist stand. Though DBSJ’s article is full of interesting facts in the trademark style for which he is well-known, I have to critique some things.

He says, “It has been said of Mahinda Rajapaksa that he never forgets those who help him in times of trouble and remains grateful.”

This might have been written under some constraints, as the column is published in a Colombo-based newspaper. But I don’t think the evidence bears that out. After all, it is said that J.S. Tissainayagam, the journalist who was incarcerated and given 20-year sentence for writing about human rights of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, had worked with Mahinda Rajapaksa during the same time frame, but that didn’t prevent Rajapaksa from arresting and torturing the former. And there are many other cases–Mangala Samaraweera, Sripathy Sooriyarachchi, both high level supportes of Rajapaksa who worked tirelessly to elect him, but were later removed from Rajapaksa’s Cabinet and expelled from the party, and the close advisor to Rajapaksa, Baratha Lakshman Premachandra, who was shot and killed by a well-known drug kingpin close to the Rajapaksas–that show Mahina Rajapaksa sticks with people who help him only if they remain his sycophants.

Kunanayakam would have become a nobody if she had uttered a word against the regime’s white van disappearances, which the article says she had been fighting in other countries. People change with time; principles and idealism go out the window when people taste power, glory, wealth, influence and glamour. So many Rajapaksa sycophants with past idealism, including Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Dayan Jayatilleka, amply prove this point. Kunanayakam is hardly an exception.

Sinhalese “moderates” and their denials of Sri Lanka’s war crimes

March 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Writing in the GroundViews blog, Chaminda Weerawardhana dismisses Sri Lanka’s war crimes and argues that Sri Lanka must ‘win’ at the UNHRC.

The war crimes in question at the UNHRC are not simply about high ‘casualties’ of the war, as Mr. Weerawardhana casually dismisses, but deliberate, systematic decisions to move ahead with bombing and shelling, knowing full well the harm it would do to thousands of civilians. And the setting to commit war crimes had been made by the deliberate lie reducing the number of civilians trapped in the Vanni, and by removing all NGOs including UN agencies, even the ICRC at the last stages, who could have been witnesses.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the defense secretary, being the brazen liar that he is, insisted all along that it was a zero casualty war, but later admitted some civilian casualties; the number of deaths has gradually gone up from 0 to less than 2000, and now to 8000; and he even now indulges in more revisionist history, arguing that the French MSF group of doctors was in the war zone, but the MSF itself denied it.

That the Mahinda-Gotabhaya Rajapaksa duo, sitting at the apex of power in Sri Lanka, are utterly lacking in any credibility or compassion for the victims of the war they conducted with such brazen ruthlessness,can only sustain genuine fears that nearly 40,000 civilians were murdered, and it will continue to generate more opprobrium internationally.

No matter how many pathetic arguments—such as the alleged hypocrisy of the US—that the so-called Sinhalese “moderates” come up with in defense of these criminals, they know that having indulged in the most atrocious crimes, including abductions, torture, mass murders, bombings, shellings, ransom and rape, they have no chance of being taken seriously by anyone who is serious about human rights. The arguments of the regime and its diplomats like Dayan Jayatilleka, all so rotten to the core, simply cause derisive laughter.

The bottom line—let us not beat around the bush– is that only an international inquiry and just punishment in the form of incarceration of these top criminals, or other forms of their removal through some regime change within Sri Lanka, will cause the country to become less of a target of international pressure. Genuine reconciliation and talks about political settlement can then begin.

The process of Sri Lanka’s journey to reconciliation can be hastened if the Rajapaksa regime faces more sustained pressure at the UNHRC. Even if the regime escapes with support from China, Russia and India, the constant pressure internationally will play with the leadership’s minds; it will affect their mental health; it will cause them to spend an inordinate amount of scarce resources in defending themselves; and while they are thus distracted, the grass root opposition to the regime within Sinhalese society, due to high cost of living, inflation, the pressures from the scarcity of petroleum products due to US sanctions on Iran, will all hasten the possibility for internal regime change. So Weerawardhana can wish all he wants for a Sri Lankan ‘win’ at the UNHRC, but those seeking truth and justice can take some comfort from the international pressures that the SL regime faces.

Even The Hindu’s latest editorial, now that Rajapaksa’s buddy Narasimhan Ram is no longer at the helm of the paper, is showing that the Lankan regime will continue to lose support internationally except among those like China and Russia whose communist governments have a lot to hide.

On India’s support to the Rajapaksa regime at the UNHRC

February 29, 2012 2 comments

When the GoSL-LTTE war was concluded in May 2009, with the murders of thousands of innocent civilians in the Vanni region of Sri Lanka, it was made possible in large part by the complicity of Indian political leadership. The giant neighbor of Sri Lanka led everyone to believe that Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa regime had agreed to go beyond the thirteenth amendment, and that the annihilation of the LTTE, regardless of the cost of civilian lives or the scorched-earth tactics that the GoSL used, would be better for Sri Lanka’s Tamils, arguing that it would lead to a political solution. India thus kept repeating its mantra that a political solution to Tamil grievances should be found within a united Sri Lanka, even as it covertly supported the Rajapaksa regime’s all-out war.

India then did the unpardonable and supported Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva for several years, preventing any resolutions against the country from being passed or any international inquiry into the war crimes committed by the GoSL.

Nearly three years after the end of the war, with the LTTE long out of the picture, the Rajapaksa regime is still abducting, torturing and disappearing innocent people and political activists. There has been no sign of any political solution, not even an inch of movement toward implementing the thirteenth amendment, let alone going beyond it. Tamils in Sri Lanka still live under conditions of military occupation. And barely a few days after Indian External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna, publicly claimed that Rajapaksa had assured him of going beyond the 13th amendment, the Lankan regime denied Rajapaksa ever made any such guarantees.

In other words, the Rajapaksa regime has given the middle finger to India, and is not even interested in implementing the 13th amendment that is already part of the constitution. And yet, when the Sri Lankan regime is being pressured at the UNHRC by a US-backed resolution—a rather mild one at that, which asks the GoSL to implement the recommendations of a commission (the LLRC) appointed by the current regime to whitewash its crimes, in an act of sheer depravity and stupidity, India is again rushing to defend Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s cabinet minister and special representative for human rights, Mahinda Samarasinghe, claimed in Geneva yesterday that India had assured full support to the Sri Lankan regime, along with China, Russia and Cuba.

The move by India has drawn the ire of major Tamil parties in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Some analysts say that the Lankan regime has played China vs. India so well that the Indian establishment is shivering at the thought of allowing China to gain more control over Sri Lanka; that it is willing to disregard the sentiments of more than 60 million Indian Tamils in a misguided effort to beat China at the game of gaining better influence and access to markets in Sri Lanka. Even though such a claim about China is dubious, let us assume that it is true; does that justify the whitewashing of grave war crimes and enabling of the mass murder of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka?

India covertly armed Sri Lanka’s Tamil youths in the early–mid 1980’s and encouraged militancy among them when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister. Despite all the bad blood due to the humiliating experiences of the Indian Peace Keeping Forces, and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, India owes the Tamil people of Sri Lanka a duty to get them justice for the war crimes and a just political settlement. That Indian leaders have not only abandoned the SL Tamil people to suffer the crimes of the Rajapaksa regime, but are actively thwarting the course of justice for the crimes as well, is a matter of eternal shame to India. Such despicable and unjust actions shall have consequences.

Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram, M.K.Narayanan, Shiv Shanker Menon, Nirupama Rao and Ranjan Mathai are all complicit in Sri Lanka’s war crimes, and deserve just punishment. Moreover, the world should remember this shameful conduct by India, and make sure that the country is denied a permanent seat at the UN Security Council that it craves, at least until there is accountability for its sordid, underhanded actions that resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of innocent lives in Sri Lanka.

Death of Marie Colvin leaves big void

February 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Barely a few days after Anthony Shadid’s death, Marie Colvin of The Sunday Times, UK, was killed in Syria.  She previously lost an eye  due to a grenade attack by Sri Lankan Army while on a secret mission into  rebel-held territory  for  reporting on the war in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan Tamils in general  greatly admired her courage in the service of truth and journalism. Her death leaves a big void  in the world of war reporting. My deepest condolences to her family and friends.

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