The Tamils Of Sri Lanka And Me

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Percentage of Sri Lankan Tamils per district b...
Percentage of Sri Lankan Tamils per district based on 2001 or 1981 (cursive) census. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was Barack Obama's first full time volunteer in all of New York City. I identify with the blacks in America because I grew up Indian in Nepal. It is hard to explain. How can India be such a big country, and Nepal such a small country, and how can Indians in Nepal be having a hard time?

Well, Nepal is no exception. Indians are having a hard time in every South Asian country, the most glorious example perhaps is Sri Lanka, the most literate South Asian nation. Sri Lanka's high literacy rate is proof political discrimination and persecution is not something on the Human Development Index. Political problems have political solutions, and Sri Lanka's democracy has not delivered for its minority Tamils.

I have never believed in political violence, but when I started my full time work into Nepal's peace process early in 2005, I tried very, very hard to understand the political motives of the armed Maoists. I abstained from demonizing them. I believe in democracy, in human rights. In many ways I am more American than Americans. I believe in a total spread of democracy across the world. And I believe it is possible through peaceful means. And I don't suffer from America's original sin - race - like some white Americans sometimes do. That helps make my thinking on democracy much clearer. My gospel of democracy has no hint of white supremacy in it.

Somethings are political, somethings are personal, some are both. I am a Madhesi in Nepal. When Hridayesh Tripathy, a Nepali politician I admire, first showed up in Kathmandu as a Member Of Parliament, his house was attacked. In the aftermath he threatened to turn Nepal into a Sri Lanka. We Madhesis in Nepal identify with the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The word Tamil exists in Delhi. The word Madhesi does not yet exist in Patna, or Lucknow or Delhi. Power brokers in Delhi do business with the power brokers in Kathmandu who suppress the Madhesis, all the time. It is a terrible blind spot to be in.

At the geopolitical level, China can come in and help the Sri Lankan elite enact genocide on the Tamils, and India has not much to say. A Chinese border incursion in Ladakh is much less offensive.

Tamils should be able to achieve equality in Sri Lanka through democracy, otherwise democracy itself is the wrong tool. Tamils should be able to achieve equality in Sri Lanka through peaceful means, otherwise peaceful methods are suspect. But I don't think democracy is suspect, I don't think peaceful methods are suspect. The right to self determination is a fundamental human right, it is like free speech, it is like freedom of religion.

Sri Lanka is going to go for fedaralism in which there is a Tamil state, and each state in that federal Sri Lanka has a right to self determination, the kind that Scotland and Quebec itch with. And Sri Lanka is going to do that because that is the right thing to do, because that is Sri Lanka's obligation as a signatory to the Universal  Declaration Of Human Rights. Sri Lanka is going to do that because India is a big country and Sri Lanka is a small country, and it can not afford not to. Sri Lanka is going to do that because, if necessary, China itself will be taught a lesson or two in democracy, federalism and human rights. That is why the Tamils are going to be given federalism with the right to self determination. The right to self determination is not a debate, any more than free speech is. It is a right. Every Tamil in Sri Lanka was born with it.

The right to self determination is not a one way road to secession. It is an opportunity for Sri Lanka to become an inclusive state where minorities like Tamils and Muslims get their due share in national life. Sri Lanka is not just for Sinhalas. And if Sinhalas want a country just for them, they should be granted that.

Massive atrocities were committed when Rajapaksha ("Ravana") militarily eliminated the LTTE. Tens of thousands of innocent, civilian Tamils were killed, maimed, violated, scarred for life. Like Stalin said, one death is a tragedy, a million deaths? Statistics. This was Rajapaksha statistics. That was not a democratic act by a democratic leader. And I am glad he has been ousted at the ballot box. I hope some day he is served justice.

A friend of mine, CK Raut, a Cambridge University PhD in Computer Science, was jailed a few months ago, and recently released by orders of the court. His ways are non-violent, and he seeks to create a new country called Madhesh.

My immigration lawyer for the past few years has been a Tamil, a Harvard Law School graduate like Barack Obama: Rudrakumaran Visuvanathan.

Rudra pushes for ICC trial on Lanka
Launching a signature campaign to press for a trial by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the genocide of Sri Lankan Tamils, Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) Prime Minister V Rudrakumaran on Wednesday said active support of the people of Tamil Nadu was crucial for generating international opinion to render justice to the Sri Lankan Tamils ...... Inaugurating the campaign in Chennai through skype, he urged the United Nations to refer the genocide of Sri Lankan Tamils to the ICC or establish a similar credible international judicial mechanism for investigation and prosecution of the war crimes and genocide. ...... Citing the UN Internal Review Report on Sri Lanka, he said there were 70,000 casualties in the first six months of the war and quoted former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who had listed Sri Lanka along with Bosnia, Burma, Congo and Sudan where rape was used a tactic of war. ..... the new Lankan government’s call for a domestic or hybrid mechanism to replace any international judicial process was an attempt to deflect the call for referral to the ICC and to delay other meaningful actions on accountability. Efforts to establish a domestic truth and reconciliation commission, he said would be another diversionary tactic to protect those who committed serious crimes against Tamils. ...... Listing out the reasons for an international investigation, the TGTE Prime Minister said “Even though the President has changed, the political environment vis-a-vis Tamils has not changed. Several former military personnel, including the military commander at the end of the war General Sarath Fonseka are in senior positions in the current government. The fact that the military apparatus is still intact and the militarisation of the north east continues to perpetuate fear among Tamils and had a deep impact on day to day activities. Therefore, it is unlikely that victims and witnesses will be truly independent before a domestic or hybrid tribunal”. ....... Besides, President Sirisena has served as Defence Minister during the end of the war, when large number of Tamils were killed and Sri Lanka did not have criminal provisions for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. ...... The unitary Lankan State and judiciary were not ethnically neutral and most of the crimes were perpetrated by the State apparatus. The island judiciary was always subservient to political leadership when it came to abuses against Tamils. Even under a Tamil Chief Justice, no prosecution was ever brought against anyone for the mass killings of Tamils in 1983, he added.