Oppression and resistance
have faced discrimination and oppression since the independence of Sri Lanka in
1948. One of the new government's first acts was to deprive Tamil plantation
workers, whose ancestors had come from India more than a hundred years before,
of citizenship rights. Then in 1956 Sinhala was made the sole official language
of Sri Lanka, putting all Tamils at a disadvantage, including those whose
ancestors had lived on the island for thousands of years.
protests against these and other discriminatory measures were violently
repressed. This led to the growth of support for the idea that the
predominantly Tamil-speaking north and east of the island should break away and
form their own separate state. Some Tamil youth took up arms to achieve this
goal, forming the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which fought a war
of independence for nearly three decades.
the war the Sri Lankan government was backed by the imperialist powers. The
United States, Britain, Israel and their allies supplied weapons, military
training and advice. For example, Israel-supplied Kfir jets were used in
attacks on LTTE-controlled areas, causing large numbers of civilian casualties.
More recently China has also helped the Sri Lankan government's war effort.
US and the European Union has banned the LTTE as a “terrorist” organisation and
arrested Tamil activists alleged to be associated with it. In Australia, while
the LTTE was not formally banned, three Tamil activists were arrested on
charges of aiding the LTTE, due to their involvement in raising frunds to
provide relief for people in LTTE-controlled areas affected by war and the
December 2004 tsunami.
LTTE was militarily defeated in May 2009. An estimated 30,000 Tamil civilians
were killed in last five months of the war, as the Sri Lankan army and air
force bombarded the diminishing LTTE-controlled areas. More than 150,000 Tamils
were killed in the whole period of the war.
thousand survivors were imprisoned for months in concentration camps. While
most are now supposedly free to leave, many are unable to return to their
homes, either because they have been destroyed or because they are in areas
designated by the Sri Lankan army as "high-security zones".
some of these areas Sinhalese settlements are being established. This is a
continuation of the Sri Lankan government's long-term policy of establishing
Sinhalese settlements in Tamil areas. The aim is to make an independent Tamil
state unviable, just as Jewish settlements in the West Bank are intended make a
Palestinian state unviable.
Tamils were the main victims of the war and repression, they were not the only
ones. Sinhalese journalists and human rights activists have also been arrested
the war is now over, the repression continues. The state of emergency is
continually renewed by the Sri Lankan government. Disappearances continue --
seventeen cases were reported to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka in
the first seven weeks of 2010.
Split among Sinhalese
the key perpetrators of the war on the Tamils have fallen out. General Sarath
Fonseka, head of the army during the final onslaught, retired from the army and
contested the January 26, 2010, presidential election against the incumbent
campaign was supported by the United National Party (the main bourgeois
opposition party), as well as by the JVP (Peoples Liberation Front), a party
that claims to be Marxist but is in practice Sinhalese chauvinist. Rajapaksa
won the election, partly due to fraud and intimidation, partly because of his
control of the state media ensured he was more successful in appealing to
the election Fonseka was arrested by military police. Initially the government
accused him of plotting a coup. However it has now been announced that he will
face two separate trials before military courts, on charges of carrying on
political activities while still in the army, as well as alleged illicit
Divisions among the Tamils
arose within the Tamil National Alliance over how to relate to the Fonseka
campaign. The TNA, which won 22 seats in the 2004 parliamentary elections, has
been the voice of the Tamils in Sri Lanka’s parliament. But following the
defeat of the LTTE there has been disagreement in the TNA about perspectives
TNA MPs called for a vote for Fonseka in the presidential election. A few
supported Rajapaksa. Both these groups dismissed the idea of running a Tamil
candidate as well as the option of supporting a Sinhalese leftist candidate,
saying that only Rajapksa or Fonseka had a chance of winning, and it was
necessary to choose the lesser evil amongst these two.
a minority of TNA MPs refused to support either Rajapaksa or Fonseka. One of
them, M.K. Sivajilingam, nominated as a candidate in the presidential election.
Tamils either boycotted the poll or were prevented from voting. In the Tamil
city of Jaffna, the voter turnout was only 18 per cent. Those Tamils who did
vote generally followed the advice of the TNA majority and supported Fonseka.
the campaign Sivajilingam held joint election meetings with Vickramabahu
Karunaratne, the presidential candidate for the NSSP. Sivajilingam and his
supporters have now broken from the TNA and formed a new party, the Tamil
National Liberation Alliance, which is continuing to work with the NSSP and
other leftists as part of the LLF.
group which has broken away from the Tamil National Alliance and is contesting
the coming parliamentary elections on a program of self-determination for
Tamils is the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam.
Tamils, while critical of the position taken by the TNA, still hope that it can
be reformed and return to a principled position.
elections are also being contested by two leftist parties that are not part of
the Left Liberation Front, the United Socialist Party and the Socialist
The role of the Tamil
1 million Tamils have fled Sri Lanka to escape racism, repression and war. These
people have been active in solidarity with those Tamils who remain in Sri
Lanka. Their protests have helped make people in the host countries aware of
the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils.
result, politicians in the US, Europe and other Western countries sometimes
express concern for human rights in Sri Lanka. While such statements are
largely tokenistic, they annoy the Sri Lankan government, which sometimes
denounces "outside interference". In reality, as Vickramabahu
Karunaratne has said, "There was no foreign intervention except on the
side of the government".
Tamil diaspora is continuing to campaign for national self-determination,
despite the military defeat of the LTTE. Referendums have been held among
Tamils living in a number of countries, resulting in overwhelming majorities
supporting national self-determination. The Global Tamil Forum recently called
on the United Nations to conduct a UN-supervised referendum in the north-east
region of Sri Lanka and among the displaced Tamils living in other countries,
to determine if they want independence or to be part of a united Sri Lanka.
Slee is a member of the Socialist Alliance in Australia and a long-time
activist in solidarity with the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. A shorter version of
this article appeared in Green Left