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crossposted on guardian.co.uk
The Sri Lankan minority wants autonomy, but persecution in their homeland stopped Tamils voting in the election to effect it
The Tamil National Alliance‘s current manifesto prefers a federal structure in Sri Lanka to a separate state. It claims shared sovereignty, and that the north and east provinces are the historical habitations of Tamil-speaking people. It further states that the Tamil people are a distinct nationality and are entitled to the right of self-determination. Power-sharing arrangements must be established in a unit of merged Northern and Eastern provinces based on a federal structure, in a manner also acceptable to the Tamil-speaking Muslim people. Devolution of power should be in the areas of land, law and order, socioeconomic development including health and education, resources and fiscal powers.
The above should be considered in the following context:
“[Tamils] have no appetite for an election at a time when they haven’t even begun to rebuild their own lives and livelihood destroyed during many years of war that only ended just seven months ago. They live generally in fear under military and armed paramilitary occupation with human rights abuses accepted as part of life.”
I wrote those words on 8 January regarding the then-proposed presidential elections in Sri Lanka, which were held on 26 January. It was no great surprise that only 25% (including postal votes) of the people of Jaffna district participated in the elections compared with the national average of 75%.
Meanwhile, conditions are worsening in Sri Lanka according to human rights organisations. The US state department, in its annual report on human rights for 2009, has been highly critical of the Sri Lankan government. It says the government or paramilitary groups close to it were involved in summary killings and disappearances and that lawyers and journalists were harassed and victimised. It says the war-affected parts of the country saw the greatest number of political disappearances, estimated to be in the hundreds.
Only a few weeks ago, the nation was polarised along ethnic lines as demonstrated in the Sri Lanka presidential election results map.
Northern province, Eastern province and the Nuwara-Eliya district in the Central province, where Tamils have predominantly lived for generations, voted for Fonseka, and in most other provinces Rajapaksha won the majority. Although Fonseka was generally considered the lesser of two evils by Tamils, it clearly demonstrated that the Tamil community as a whole has lost all confidence in the sitting president and in his ability or sincerity to resolve the national question. While the Sinhalese majority has equally demonstrated which of the two evils they preferred for his ultra nationalistic and racist stands.
General governance in Sri Lanka disapproves and viciously punishes dissent, clearly demonstrated by the many abductions and killings of journalists and politicians. It is blatant now that Rajapaksha has decided to imprison his opponent in the presidential election. The constitution itself disallows espousing separation by any individual, community or party.
At the same time, the newly formed Tamil National People’s Front stated that it was based firmly on the concept of Tamil nationalism: homeland, Tamil nationhood, Tamil sovereignty and right to self-determination.
The Tamil diaspora in their own adopted countries around the world are in the process of demonstrating, by holding independently monitored referenda, how strongly they feel, just as the Tamil people in Sri Lanka clearly articulated in the 1977 general elections (before the introduction of the sixth amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution which disallows espousing separation) about their aspirations to be a separate nation in the island of Sri Lanka.
It is only right that the president of the Global Tamil Forum, Rev Dr Emmanuel, in a recent letter addressed to the Tamil sisters and brothers, without being prescriptive has given some fatherly guidance:
“While we hunger and thirst, frightened and threatened, our brothers and sisters within the island have a vital responsibility to remain the root and basis for the true liberation of Tamils which will end all these tragedies and sufferings. Hence in casting their votes and electing members for the parliament, we urge and exhort them not to support pseudo-political leaders who betray our Tamil cause for liberation but to support candidates or parties who are loyal to the fundamental aspirations of all the Tamils within and outside of Sri Lanka.”