Back to the period before Black July by M S M Ayub

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The main Opposition, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) launched a picketing campaign against the suppression of dissent and spiraling cost of living at the Independence Square on July 9

M.A.Sumanthiran and Mano Ganesan who participated in the demonstration had expressed their dissatisfaction over the non-availability of placards in Tamil language

In essence, ideologically we have been at the proverbial square one throughout the period spanning from the time before the Black July up to now, despite the loss of tens of thousands of lives

Against the backdrop of the arrest of trade union and political activists who demonstrated against the proposed General Sir John Kotelawala National Defence University Bill, the main Opposition, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) launched a picketing campaign against the suppression of dissent and spiraling cost of living at the Independence Square on July 9.   

Two leaders of two Tamil parties – one from the north and the other from the up-country – M.A.Sumanthiran and Mano Ganesan who participated in the demonstration had expressed their dissatisfaction over the non-availability of placards in Tamil language.   

Then, on July 17, the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ), the organization founded by the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera and currently led by former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya convened a conference for Opposition political parties. Consensus was reached on four key issues that need to be addressed by the Parliamentary Opposition at the conference. Notably, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) had not participated in the meeting which was chaired by Karu Jayasuriya and Samagi Jana Balawegeya (SJB) and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa.   

The four core issues that were agreed upon to be immediately addressed were the abolishment of the 20th Amendment, the need for economic revival, the commitment to human rights, and the protection of the independence of the judiciary. Again, the same Tamil leaders, spokesman for the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sumanthiran and leader of the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA), Mano Ganesan complained that the conference had left out the problems faced by the Tamil people or what is sometimes called The National question.   

Sumanthiran, while agreeing to fight for democracy, went on to warn that his party is not prepared to travel with the participants of the conference in the future unless the Tamil issue is included in the issues to be addressed.   

This week marks the 38th anniversary of the anti-Tamil pogrom in 1983, which is commonly known as the “Black July” during which around 400 Tamils were killed and billions worth properties were looted or set on fire mainly by state-sponsored hooligans. And the complaints by the two Tamil leaders at the two events cited above poses the question where the country is 38 years after those unfortunate incidents which became a catalyst for a three decade of bloody war that claimed tens of thousands of lives in the South as well as North.   

The immediate trigger for the “Black July” carnage was the killing of 13 soldiers by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on July 23 at Thirunelveli in the outskirts of Jaffna city. The attack on the army convoy was considered as a leap forward by the LTTE in their armed struggle for a separate State and it provoked the Sinhalese community as it was the incident where the highest number of soldiers were killed by the Tamil armed groups in a single incident then. Against a backdrop of the psychological groundwork already laid by the media, this incident was more than what was needed for the holocaust that followed.   

Yet, the separatist movements grew by leaps and bounds following the anti-Tamil pogrom as thousands of Tamil youth infuriated by the incidents in the South joined various Tamil armed groups, giving priority to the LTTE. And they were benefitted by an international sympathy wave towards the Sri Lankan Tamils as well. Besides Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who represented then the Soviet bloc also wanted to settle scores with the President J.R.Jayawardena for his allegiance to the US led Western imperialist bloc that was then politically encircling India with its allies such as Pakistan and Bangladesh.   

However, it was tens of thousands of youth in the North as well as the South who lost their lives during the war when billions worth properties owned by the state as well as the ordinary people were also destroyed. Ultimately, we attained what Sociologists call a “negative peace”- a situation with neither a war nor a solution to the causes of it, in 2009.   

The Tamil separatist struggle was attributed to the complaints raised by the Tamil leaders about discrimination and exclusion, especially in the usage of Tamil language. Interestingly, after a three decade-long war that catapulted by the Black July, Tamil leaders such as Sumanthiran and Mano Ganesan are still complaining about discrimination and exclusion.   

Politicians, sociologists, religious leaders, international organisations such as the United Nations and United Nations Human Right Council and various others speak about inclusiveness, when it comes to the ethnic problems in various countries. Nevertheless, it is an area that politicians fear to tread, particularly due to the mindset they themselves have instilled in the people for decades, for their narrow political gains. This is applicable to both leaders of majority and minority communities.   

For instance, if the SJB gave prominence or priority to problems faced by the Tamil or Muslim people, it would be exploited by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to rouse communal feelings among Sinhalese. One can infer the response of the SLPP and its allies had the Opposition parties included the ethnic issue in their list of issues at the NMSJ conference. Also the close link between the UNP and the TNA in the recent past was always used by the former’s adversaries, especially the groups supportive of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to demonise it.   

Similarly Tamil leaders fear that they would be severely taken to task by the very Tamils, if they claimed that they want to assimilate with the national politics or they do not accept an armed struggle. When Sumanthiran in an interview with a Sinhala YouTube channel said in May last year that he did not accept the method used by LTTE leader Prabhakaran to win the rights of Tamil people while claiming that he accepted both Sri Lanka’s national anthem and the flag, it provoked widespread outrage from across the Tamil political spectrum, including condemnation from within his own party, the TNA.   

What he said was true, not only in respect of his party, but also that was the case with all other Tamil parties which criticized him for his comment. TNA or its main constituent party the Illankai Thamil Arasu Katchi which Sumanthiran represents never engaged in any armed struggle, except for supporting the LTTE during the latter’s heyday, out of fear. It was also the case with the Tamil parties that surrendered their arms to the State following the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in 1987.   

In essence, ideologically we have been at the proverbial square one throughout the period spanning from the time before the Black July up to now, despite the loss of tens of thousands of lives. 

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Disclaimer: Back to the period before Black July by M S M Ayub - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view

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