Dr.Umakant is an independent Researcher and Human Rights Advocate based in New Delhi. The edited version of this review was published in The New Indian Express on Jan 06, 2013.
Book Review of K.M. de Silva‘s Sri Lanka and the Defeat of LTTE (Penguin Books India, New Delhi/2012)
K.M. de Silva has authored several books and articles on the history of Sri Lanka and has equally contributed on current affairs issues. The book under review is a continuation of his earlier works on the history of separatism in Sri Lanka. The title of the book itself is misleading in the sense that tenor of his writing is on elimination of LTTE and not the military or political defeat of LTTE. From the first page to the last the emphases by the author seem to be on portraying the LTTE as a monster and why it was necessary to eliminate it from the soil of Sri Lanka. There are several questions that have remained unanswered in this exercise. One important question that is still searching for an answer is, “Could Sinhala chauvinism escape the blame in making LTTE what it was?”
For any neutral observer it may be worthwhile to look at the demography of Sri Lanka: Sinhala- 74%, Sri Lankan Tamil- 13%, Indian Origin Tamil- 5%, Muslim- 7% and others- 1%. The majoritarian Sinhala population has not allowed the minorities to flourish in any sense of the term. This resulted in alienation of the Tamils socially, economically and politically over the years after Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948. The “Sinhala Only” has been vigorously pursued and it has resulted in complete banishment of the “Others” (Tamils, Muslims) culturally, socially, economically and politically too.
The present volume is divided in to four parts: part one deals with the history of separatism as it evolved in Sri Lanka. Part two is about the controversial issues that were prominent in the contention between the Sri Lankan State and the advocates of Tamil rights and claims. Part three deals with the complete rout of the LTTE and in this process how political factors played its role. Part four deals with the problems of reconstruction and reconciliation after the decimation of the LTTE. While reading though the present volume one gets an impression that the author has unnecessarily tried to find an analogy between the separatist movement in Sri Lanka and the one in Jammu and Kashmir without taking note of the fact that each of them have followed a different trajectory with a different legacy though the aim of both may be same as in the emergence of an independent homeland. But again, there are several other geo-political, religious and historical reasons which makes them different and any attempt to club them together cannot be justified. Even India’s role in liberation and emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country cannot and should not be seen as contributing to Tamil groups in Sri Lanka approaching India for a similar help in achieving their goal. But this is what the author firmly believes and has highlighted it prominently.
The author seems to be hell bent on referring on more than one occasion about the successful operation of Sri Lankan Armed Forces led by Lieutenant General Cyril Ranatunga in 1987 against the LTTE. He rues the fact that it was due to pressure mounted by the Indian Government that Sri Lankan Armed Forces had to abort this operation. Even when the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) left Sri Lanka in 1990, the then Sri Lankan President Premadasa did not capture the areas liberated by IPKF which were earlier held by the LTTE. The author criticises the Government of Sri Lanka for indulging in peace talks with the LTTE instead of continuing with armed operation against them.
Even on the issues of affirmative action in higher education for Sinhala population, language and the employment sector, the author has taken a partisan approach. He rebuts the criticism of pro-Sinhala policies with his own findings and tries to prove the fact that “Sinhala Only” was not an official policy of the Government of Sri Lanka. But is it not a fact that the successive Governments in Sri Lanka have bowed before the demands of the Sinhala nationalist forces and have actually followed different policies that have led to complete alienation of Tamils from the national mainstream?
The last phase of civil war in Sri Lanka which culminated in the decimation of the LTTE in May 2009 has itself raised several questions on the conduct of the Government of Sri Lanka and its Armed Forces. But the author rubbishes the claims of war crimes against the Sri Lankan Forces as unfounded and goes on to justify the military intervention in glowing words. He even goes to the extent of saying that large number of non-combatant civilians which were trapped by the LTTE in the war zone, did go back to their houses within six months to one year’s time. This is a blatant lie, several thousand Tamil refugees were holed up in the detention camps and a large proportion of them have not been allowed to go back to their areas. There is no mention in this book that why some of the senior leaders of LTTE and their family members who wanted to surrender were all shot dead in cold blood. The Sri Lanka Armed Forces resorted to massive human rights violations that included rape
and killing of women whether in large or small numbers does not become an issue for the author to be highlighted in this book.
The tone of the author on the issues of reconciliation and reconstruction in the post civil war phase also sounds very patronising. Reconciliation can happen only when truth is ascertained. It will be judged by the level of justice, human rights and accountability that the Government of Sri Lanka adheres to not only in principle but also in practice. Let us not forget that separatism and terrorism are also a political ideology and it warrants a political solution. Celebration of Military victory is only a sign of the Sinhala chauvinism at its best. As it is Sri Lanka has a long history of not implementing the recommendations of earlier domestic enquiry commissions into disappearances and political killings. Thousands of captured and surrendered members of LTTE continue to remain under detention without any trial even after three and a half years of the end of war. In the end what could be said is that it is still not too late for an honest assessment in the form of a stock taking exercise to ascertain the factors that led to civil war. Unity in diversity could only make a country strong, and for that to happen chauvinism certainly will have no role to play.