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Of Ethnic Hegemony And Political Crisis: Understanding Rajapaksa Regime
As A Repressive State Apparatus In Sri Lanka

By Adfer Rashid Shah, Aparna Dixit, Taranum Siddiqi, Reshma Parveen & Rais Khan

28 August, 2013

“The Island nation (Sri Lanka) has been grappling with ethnic politics, bloody turmoil and horrors of the civil war even in the contemporary times. The policies of the Rajapaksa Regime along with Sinhala terror and socio-political dominance have virtually posed a formidable challenge to the Tamil ethnicity as well as to other minorities in Sri Lanka. This worries the international community especially India for its bilateral relations and Tamil politics back home. The institutionalized impunity for human rights violations with no space for political dissent has lead to the unceasing socio-political chaos in Sri Lanka without any immediate visible solution .The Rajapaksa government currently seems hell bent to dilute the most significant 13th amendment to erode the provincial powers further.”


The civil war horrors are haunting Sri Lanka even today in the post civil war era. After the infamous Balachandran murder issue yet another controversy has evolved. Amid the zero ethnic reconciliation, the Tamil alienation and suffering seemingly shows no end despite Sinhalese deny the fact. Sri Lanka where the military oppression with impunity and operations are above the social justice and civilian safety, the minorities especially Tamils have hardly shown a merger with the mainstream politics. India and Sri Lanka, though, known for their much celebrated amicable bilateral ties in the sub-continent, may finally succumb to the gruesome hostility because of the sustained Tamil estrangement in Sri Lanka casting in turn serious repercussions on Indian soil mostly fuelled by the significant Tamil ethnicity in both the nations. Given the wave of Tamil sentiment coupled with pressures from Kazgham political groups (AIADMK, DMK, MDMK, etc,) back home, the whole discourse has finally reached a stage, where India perhaps, cannot afford to escape expressing its serious displeasure to Rajapaksa regime for even trying to dilute the 13th amendment and go a few steps further in condemning the violation of human rights against Tamils and other minorities. Besides this the weakening judiciary after the politically motivated impeachment of the country’s first women chief justice (Shirani Bandaranayake impeached and ousted in January,2013). Only the time will tell, what effect the recently revealed war crimes and genocide of LTTE–Sri Lankan Army combat era will cast on Sri Lanka’s internal stability and more importantly how will it breed Kazgham politics back home. Will India seriously react to the inhuman and cold blooded murder of the innocent Balachandran Prabakaran (12), the youngest son of Slain LTTE Supremo Velupillai Prabakaran and what can be its fallouts on the already deteriorating relationship between the two south Asian states remains to be seen?

Sri Lankan Crisis and India’s Home Pressures

While Syria’s Assad may be a subject to harsh criticism and widespread protests globally, the Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa has also shared limelight though for the deteriorated democracy and impunity of armed forces without accountability. The current wave of all round protests against the Sri Lankan president have finally transcended the borders and reached India mostly for the Tamil issues and the alleged war crimes and genocide by the Sri Lankan armed forces especially during the last phase of the prolonged civil war. The president’s recent visit to India too remained not so most welcome due to protests in India over the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka and the long pending Tamil issue. Moreover, the mysterious death of the small boy Balachandran during the last phase of the civil war, as reported by a documentary recently. The feature documentary named, “No fire zone: The killing Fields of Srilanka, directed by Callum Macrae, an English film maker and writer has revealed that the captured boy was shot mercilessly in the chest after arresting him alive by the Sri Lankan army, reflecting the nature of freedom and impunity Sri Lankan army (SLA) enjoys in the Rajapaksa regime. The released photographs are disturbing and painful, revealing that Balachandran was murdered in cold blood during the end of Sri Lanka’s three decades old civil war in which thousands of LTTE combatants, civilians, SLA troops were killed. The all round news and video footage of such a brutal murder has raised much hue and cry in India especially in India’s Tamil belt, thereby putting pressure on the Indian government to intervene seriously in this matter of war crime and genocide in Sri Lanka. Even the president Pranab’s maiden speech in the parliament was interrupted recently over the issue and the demand was that India should vote against Sri Lanka in the United Nations National Human Rights Council meeting to be held in Geneva in March, this year.

As the Tamil sentiment is growing fast in Tamil Nadu,(reacted seriously by Srilanka’s Sinhala nationals ) the hue and cry over the death scene of the Balachandran Prabakaran is not shocking as Kazghams have been playing politics and earning vote banks since long in Tamil Nadu over the Tamil alienation in Sri Lanka than Tamil issues at home. The Balachandran tragedy and the protests/pressures at home have irked the Indian government and public alike generating a sense of anger against Sri Lanka.

Ever since the civil war broke out on ethnic lines in Sri Lanka, the stains of war crimes, lack of social justice and egalitarian treatment to all Sri Lankan citizens alike, accountability among men of power has disappeared like anything. Moreover, Rajapaksa’s family fiefdom, Sinhalese Buddhist (Bodu Bala Sena) extremism and hostility against Muslims (10% of Sri Lankan populace) and other minorities, Sinhala opposition even against the use of Halal food products and other goods and above all the brutal military operations and sustained interventions have turned Sri Lanka virtually into an impoverished rather a fake democracy where State sponsored repression and pan Sinhala nationalism trends have wreaked havoc.ICJ report(November 2012) mentions,

Sri Lanka is facing a crisis of impunity. It is increasingly difficult, in fact nearly impossible, for people who have suffered serious violations of their human rights to receive justice and accountability. Victims and survivors do not receive redress, and perpetrators are not brought to justice. The absence of justice removes an important deterrent to future perpetrators (ICJ, Geneva: 2012) .

Ealem Tamils is a suppressed ethnic identity that continues to suffer in the Island republic even after the end of the civil war and sufferings but the targeting continues despite the death of the Tamil Ealem movement. Though having close ethnic and cultural ties with Sri Lanka, India has not shown any keen interest to improve the state or talk seriously upon the Tamil oppression issues with the neighbouring State, except voting against it last year in UNHCR meet in Geneva. Moreover, Sri Lanka as a democracy is failing as the president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s power wielding tactics and politics along with arbitrary military power support has resulted in the lack of a good governance and feel secure psyche among the minorities especially Tamils who were worst hit in all respects during the civil war and even after. The justice has still not been done and most of the people in power are guilty of crimes in the past. Callum Macrae on Balachandaran’s fate writes:

There is not an academic exercise in historical accountability. The men responsible for these war crimes are still in charge. They are continuing to brutally repress Tamils in the north and persecute anyone who criticizes the government including as we have seen with the impeachment of the chief justice in their own country (Macrae: The Hindu) .

On India-Sri Lanka Relations: Prospect and Retrospect

Relations between Sri Lanka and India are anchored in shared religious, cultural and civilizational bonds. Though in the recent past, bilateral relations have registered both qualitative and quantitative transformation as evinced in general, broad-based improvement across all the sectors of bilateral cooperation, the journey has not been completely hassle free. Fundamentally, the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord was signed on 29 July, 1987 in Colombo between the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene. The accord was primarily meant to resolve the ongoing Sri Lankan civil war. As per the agreement, there had to be devolution of powers to the provinces, withdrawal of Sri Lankan troops to their barracks in the North besides Tamil rebels were to disarm. Under the guise of this agreement, Sri Lankan Government granted numerous concessions to Tamil demands be that merger of Northern and Eastern provinces, Colombo’s devolution of power to the provinces, official status for the Tamil language or for that purpose the end of more recent, Operation Liberation—the famous and successful ongoing anti-insurgent operation by Sri Lankan forces in Northern peninsula. The salience of the aforementioned accord was India’s acknowledgement to end its support to Tamil separatist movement in recognition of the unity of Sri Lanka. The Indo-Sri Lanka also reflected the commitment of Indian Government towards military assistance on the basis of which the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) came to be inducted into Sri Lankan island.

The role of IPKF in back tracking the derailed peace process on Sri Lankan island has been phenomenal. Within a year of completion of Operation Checkmate-1/Battle of Nithikailulam in August 1998, IPKF was able to confine worn-out LTTE to the Vanni jungles and normal life was reestablished in Northeast. In spite of the various odds, IPKF was able to generate a feel secure psyche among the people besides gaining their trust. However, the peace accord could not provide or deliver equal rights to Tamils that it promised. Though LTTE was reduced to a spent force by IPKF, its ill-timed exit in 1990, when India withdrew the remaining forces from Sri Lanka before the administration could virtually strengthen itself in the Northeast paved the way for and ensured the resurrection of the LTTE. Thus began the new era of gruesome bloodbath between the LTTE and the Government. Political convenience in both the countries distorted the goals of the peace accord as a result of which, it could not deliver fully. The treaty which was rather conceived to bridge the vast ethnic divide between the Tamils and the Sinhalese in fact aggravated the atmosphere of misgiving and trust about India’s intentions among many Sinhalese. Moreover, advent of Indian troops on the Sri Lankan island was not taken on a positive note by many Sri Lankan’s including the LTTE. Apart from hurting the national pride of various sections in Sri Lanka, the accord was seen as an instrument of Indian hegemony by LTTE.

Today, the much celebrated connecting link in the form of the common presence of large number of Tamils across the borders is turning out to be a burning issue between the two countries. The heavy blood bath of Tamils and their continuing alienation and its fallout in India has perhaps reached to a stage, where India keeping the monster of Tamil sentiment and pressures from Kazhgams and the mass Dravidian ethnicity into consideration, has to raise questions of human rights abuse and war crimes to Sri Lanka’s authoritarian democracy. What effect can the inhuman killing of Balachandaran Prabakaran and worsening judicial crisis casts on the relations between the two south Asian partners, remains to be seen. As the issue has gained attention throughout the nation especially among the wider political circles, the question is whether India can really pressurize Sri Lanka for a fair probe in Balachandran’s murder case.

Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, argues that Sri Lanka needs India’s support during the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva in March 2013. It cannot afford to take India’s support for granted anymore after it betrayed” (as some of my Sri Lankan establishment friends termed it) and voted for the U.S. resolution seeking accountability from Sri Lanka. In this context, an informal meeting with the Indian Prime Minister would have been useful to Rajapaksa to put across Sri Lanka’s case for support”.(Eurasia Review) .

On the gravity and attention of the issue among all political circles in India, He further writes that:

“The significance of the Communists as well as the as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) backing the anti-Rajapaksa protests should not be missed. In a belated move, the Congress party also added its bit to this sentiment. Perhaps for the first time, nearly all political parties seem to be realizing the importance of the issue at the national level”.

Since, Sri Lanka shares chair with India in a number of multilateral forums like SAARC, NAM, BIMSTEC etc. Hence, the cooperation between the two is essential. Any move against Sri Lanka will definitely hurt strategic interests between the two nations for India can no longer be the preferred partner of Sri Lanka and bilateral relations can suffer to the worst. While Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Kumari Jayalalitha along with her opponents in Tamil Nadu expressed their anger against the issue of war crimes including the small Balachandran’s cold blooded murder by the Sri Lankan Army, India is yet to respond to the issue as a nation, though keen to but tactical.

India has got a twofold and tedious task of nurturing the Tamil sentiments on one hand and simultaneously to assess its relations with the Sri Lanka on the other hand-- a situation which has plunged India into a dilemma, a devil and a deep sea like situation.

Will India really fulfill its moral responsibility by supporting the resolution against the Island Country in UNHRC meet, thereby condemning the atrocities and civilian killings during the civil war? Can India really cross the punch line by supporting the resolution against Sri Lanka, when even China seems to be supporting the pro-Sinhalese Rajapaksa regime? The striving is to maintain friendly relations, a climate conducive for talks on matters of mutual interest and to prevent any situation from reaching a breaking point

Last Word

The difficult question is that how can social justice amid communal acts and clashes be restored when even the ideological and the repressive state apparatus seem to be one in Sri Lanka. As the horrors of the civil war in Sri Lanka are unfolding before the world, how is Sri Lanka going to justify the same before the UN Human Rights Council meeting and shall the country be punished or shall there be any pressure or sanctions from the UNHCR. Also Amidst Sri Lanka’s unwillingness towards Indian interference or for that matter any foreign interference in their internal affairs, can India afford to shy away from raising agitation or express concern over the Tamil atrocity issues (or violence against Muslims) inside Sri Lanka? Though India has expressed its dismay over the Sri lanka’s intentions of diluting the famous 13th amendment ,that most of the Sri Lankan political pundits believe was forced by India on the Island nation (a landmark provincial council system within the unitary state based on a 1987 agreement with India with a promise to devolve some authority to provinces).Can India afford to let Sri lanka dilute the amendment and escape its moral responsibility and more than that the protests and public pressures keeping in view the sentiments of its Tamil ethnicity mostly in Tamil Nadu state. While the Sinhala terror and extreme dominance is growing, The pity is that now even the Muslims are crushed and interferences n their religious rights are carried out openly. The Muslim rage that can grow in India against the rising Sinhala terror (the recent attack on Mosque by Buddhist fanatics) against Sri Lankan Muslims who are now intimidated to abandoning Halal food products in the Buddhist majority State? Will India again support a resolution on/against Sri Lanka like it did last year and shall the international voices and action be able to end the post civil war impunity scenario in the Island Nation? What steps the international community can take ahead to safe guard the 13th amendment and preserve the rights of the Sri Lankan minorities. Taking the lessons from Balachandraan’s merciless murder by the Sri Lankan army with impunity or now their efforts to erode the 13th amendment and amend its key provisions, India and the World powers and UNHCR have to seriously think on the war crimes and genocides going on under the tyrant regimes and state sponsored oppression on civilians in Sri lanaka and in other under developed and developing nations of the globe. After all how long will the ideology of collateral damage and Buddhist extremism or majority say persist and keep engulfing the innocent citizens or impoverish the democratic rights of the innocent civilians/Tamils/Muslims in Sri Lanka and round the world. Shall India prefer Economic/bilateral partnership or Tamil’s social and political alienation, only the time will tell. Also will the social injustice meted to Tamil’s in Sri Lanka sustain the culture of dissent against the government, remains a haunting quest and most importantly is India really feeling the pain of Sri Lankan Tamils, remains painful question with a big question mark at its end.

Endnotes and References

Authority without accountability: The crisis of impunity in Sri Lanka. November. 2012.A report by ICJ(International Commission of Jurists). Geneva, Switzerland.

Macrae Callum. (19 February, 2013.). The Killing of a Young Boy. The Hindu.

Hariharan,R.(13 February, 2013 ).Sri Lanka: India Losing Patience With Rajapaksa – Analysis..Eurasia Review.
Rama Chandran Shastri. (September 25,2012).India-Sri Lanka relations hostage to Tamil


(Authors belong to Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women Studies (SNCWS), Jamia Millia Islamia, Central University, New Delhi, India. The corresponding author is Adfer Rashid Shah and the views expressed are authors personal. Record your burps, belches and indigestion, if any, atadfer.syed@gmail.com).



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