People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 17

April 29, 2012




Tamils’ Legitimate Demands

Must be Settled Immediately


T K Rangarajan


THE army must be pushed back to the barracks; the Tamils living in camps resettled in their original inhabitations; accountability fixed of those who indulged in war crimes during the last phase of the war in Summer 2009; and powers devolved to the Tamil provinces as was stipulated by a constitutional amendment after heroic struggles and sacrifices. These were the demands made by an Indian all-party parliamentary delegation that visited Sri Lanka for six days starting April 16, 2012. It was only after a lot of controversy that the visit of the 12 member parliamentary delegation to Sri Lanka, led by leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha, Ms Sushma Swaraj (BJP), took place.


The delegation also demanded of the government of India that it must bring pressure upon the Sri Lankan government through inter-governmental and diplomatic efforts for fulfilment of these demands.


While the mainline Dravidian parties, the AIADMK and DMK, withdrew their nominees from the delegation, alleging that it won’t serve any purpose, the successful and productive conclusion of the visit on April 21 pushed these parties to the defensive. Their contention was that the members of Indian parliament would not be able to visit the IDP camps and war affected areas to hear the views of Sri Lankan Tamils, but it proved wrong. The itinerary was recast and a tight schedule awaited the delegation when it landed in Ceylon.




We recall that the winter session of parliament lost a considerable amount of its business time because of disruptions as almost all parties wanted the government to intervene in the Sri Lankan Tamils issue. The AIADMK, DMK, Left parties, BJP, SP and BSP were agitated over the failure of the Sri Lankan government to rehabilitate the internally displaced persons (IDPs) languishing in the camps. Even after three years the army was not sent back to the barracks and it continues to stalk in the streets of Tamil speaking towns, denying them a peaceful civilian life. The much awaited political package about devolution of powers to the North and the East, envisaged in the 13th amendment to Sri Lankan constitution, was put on the backburner, depriving the Tamil community of their legitimate right to equality within a united Sri Lanka. It was in this background that our prime minister assured both the houses that a parliamentary delegation would soon visit Sri Lanka to ascertain the current state of affairs there and to suggest remedial measures to be taken by the Indian government.


In the meanwhile, in the last week of March, the USA moved a resolution in the Geneva based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on human rights violations by Sri Lankan army, and it was passed, with India supporting it. The main content of the resolution was that the Sri Lankan government must implement the suggestions based on the findings of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which it had itself constituted. Though the Sri Lankans’ main anger was mainly against the US, circles in the country also saw India voting with the US as a let-down. However, the latest visit was, to a larger extent, able to create an atmosphere of confidence between the neighbours and sensitise them to the urgency of addressing the issues of Sri Lankan Tamils in right earnest. The team consisted of 12 members — five from the Congress, three from the BJP and one each from the CPI(M), SP, RJD and BJD. Of the 12 members, five were from Tamilnadu. T K Rangarajan, a Rajya Sabha member from Tamilnadu, represented the CPI(M).


On its arrival, Basil Rajapaksa, minister for economic development, received the team and briefed it. Then a meeting took place between the delegation and Sri Lankan parliamentarians; these included MPs from the TNA, CWC and other Tamil ethnic groups. There were free and fair discussions on the Sri Lankan government’s acts of omission and commission. Among others, Sampanthan (TNA) and Thondaiman (CWC) spoke on the plight of various sections of Sri Lankan Tamils. Finally, G L Peiris, the external affairs minister, explained the government’s constraints and assured the participants that their justified demands would be expeditiously taken up. The Indian delegation emphasised the need to urgently settle all the issues raised by Tamil groups. It also visited the memorial erected for the IPKF martyrs, most of whom were Tamils. Before visiting the camps and war affected areas, the delegation separately met various Tamil groups, viz, TNA, CWC, TULF and EPRLF, as well as Muslim leaders.




Next day, the team visited the Menik Farm where about 6,000 IDPs are living. Most of the menfolk were out for work and the team talked to the women staying behind. These families have nowhere to go — no houses, no employment and no livelihood or hope for them. They live on substandard rations; they have no medical facilities and their children have no education. Theirs are untold sufferings. Same is the case in other camps too. The team visited Wavuniya disrtict, Mullaitheevu, Jaffna, East Batticoloa and other places. The entire south India and Sri Lanka never experienced a war in the last few centuries together; these areas remained unaffected even during the two World Wars. Yet anyone can see what war damages mean and have first hand knowledge of the common man’s sufferings if one visits the northern and eastern Sri Lanka. There are about 60,000 war widows, of which 45,000 are Tamil speaking. Some 13,000 Tamil widows are less than 23 years of age. This, in itself, is a tragedy which one can see only with a heavy heart.


Jaffna, a centre of excellence and a knowledge hub for Sri Lankan Tamils, is in total ruins. No one is able to move freely. Here the army views two Tamils as a crowd and five as a mob. Mass of the Tamil community are seen as terrorist suspects. They cannot have any social get-together. They cannot even go to a temple after 5 p m. In this devout Saivite town, everything sets before the sunset. No priest ventures to enter a temple to perform the artha jama pooja, an essential ritual to be performed in temples. How long will this go? This is the question all democratic minded people are raising.




Though inadequate to the demands of the situation, the Indian government has made significant efforts, to the extent possible, to alleviate the sufferings of Sri Lankan Tamils. Though the Indian government had promised to build 50,000 houses for the war-ravaged Tamils, a paltry pilot project of 1,000 houses was attempted and only 650 completed in the three years so far. This is indeed a sad story. Most of the contractors are from Tamilnadu but the source of red-tapism is difficult to locate. So the government decided to open a bank branch there, through which a sum of Rs 5 lakh each will be disbursed to the intended 50,000 families for construction of houses.


In cooperation with the Sri Lankan government, the Indian government started SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association) to provide employment to war widows. The visiting delegation inaugurated a coaching centre for them. The state governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka have promised to give them additional training. Hundreds of them are already in India for training purposes, but it is a long way to go before all of them get trained and gainfully employed. Those who have lost their limbs and become invalid in the war are being provided artificial limbs by Indian doctors and paramedical people. Indian Railways and its engineering staff are laying hundreds of kilometres of railway lines from the north to the south and east. Indian engineers are rebuilding the Kangesanthurai port. Once the jetties are ready, sea trade can commence between Kangesanthurai and Nagapattinam. The NTPC is building a 500 MW thermal electricity generation plant in the east. The land acquisition process is over and construction has started in right earnest.


India-made Bajaj and TVS auto-rickshaws are widely seen. The Sinhalese as well as the Tamilians are welcoming the Indian investment pouring in many parts of Sri Lanka. The Indian government has started many vocational training centres to make the Tamils employable in modern industries. Representatives of the Indian government have taken care to rebuild schools from the primary to the higher levels at various places. Indian corporates have shown much interest in starting big educational institutions and corporate hospitals. The Apollo group has already established a hospital. Though the aim of Indian corporates is to expand their business, one must not lose sight of the reception accorded them by the Sri Lankan government, in comparison to other foreign investors. Eventually how much of the benefits go to Sri Lankan Tamils and their habitations, is still imponderable. At present the trade between the two nations amounts to about 25000 crore Indian rupees; once this goes up, it would help the Indian nation in evolving a solution of the ethnic problem. The decision making process of the Indian government needs to take this aspect into account.




As far as the CPI(M) is concerned, it took a consistent stand ever since the problem started — that the issue has to be solved within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. To the party, a separate Tamil province with devolution of powers within the united Sri Lanka would be the best possible solution to the vexatious problem. A separate Tamil Eelam, as demanded by many of the groups in Tamilnadu, is not only unattainable; it may not be in the interest of the neighbouring island nation in view of the geopolitical pulls and pushes it is subjected to from time to time. We made this position very clear to the leaders of all Tamil groups we met.


Recently meeting at Kozhikode, the 20th congress of the CPI(M) said the following: “The CPI(M) stands for a united Sri Lanka in which Tamil minorities can live in peace and harmony with the majority Sinhala community. The party appeals to all democratic forces in Sri Lanka to ensure a political solution to the Tamil question. The congress urges the Indian government to make all necessary political and diplomatic efforts to see that: a) The full rehabilitation and resettlement of the Tamil people is expeditiously undertaken; b) The Sri Lankan government conducts an independent enquiry into the human rights violations and to establish accountability; c) A political settlement is reached based on devolution of powers to the northern and eastern provinces.”


While concluding the visit, the delegation had met M Rajapaksa, the president of Sri Lanka, urging him to act, and act faster, to solve the ethnic question. He pleaded his inability to act fast in view of the coalition compulsions of Sri Lankan politics, which are similar to those in India. However, he assured that the select committee of their parliament would be convinced to agree to and implement the constitutional amendment. He agreed to various immediate demands made by the Indian delegation.


This visit of the Indian parliamentary delegation might be a small step in try resolve the decades old Sri Lankan Tamil problem, but it would definitely go a long way to create a better collective understanding of it. The CPI(M)’s decision to join the delegation was correct and the party has made a significant contribution to the process of resolving the problem.