Thursday, June 21, 2012

UTHR (J) forges ahead without narrow ethnic agendas!

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

This is a horror story. It follows a classic plotline of the genre; the gradual emergence of the hidden revenant from under the guise of apparent goodness. At night, during a thunder storm, the hero would be necking in the car with his beautiful girlfriend (who is really the female revenant, a malignant supernatural force in human guise). Suddenly, in a flash of lighting, for a fraction of a second, he would see the beloved face as the face of a rotting corpse. The next moment, it would be the familiar beautiful face and he would dismiss the revelation as a trick of the light. But these sightings will intensify during the coming days, until…

The equivalent moment in my horror story comes when an intense bloke with little warmth but earnest and assiduous, a Calvinist to the bone, enjoying extremely good press for passionate defense of human rights, the recipient of an Amnesty International award in recognition of same, tries to straddle the moral high ground and slips. He pontificates in glorious vein (doing the beautiful girlfriend number); “Social and political forces with narrow ethnic or religious ideological trappings continue to undermine democracy in most of the developing nations… There is only one way forward. An initiative to forge a broad multi-ethnic and multi religious movement that challenges these narrow ethnic and religious agendas… While the Government and Sinhalese chauvinism must be fought through alliances with Muslims and Sinhalese who understand the dangers…” And then voila, the sudden glimpse of the rotting corpse underneath in the shape of an earnest invoking of the Tamil community’s claim on the North and the East. The bloke is none other than Rajan Hoole and this horror flick is shown in UTHR (J) special report 34.

The paragraph that afforded me my first, fleeting glimpse of the revenant under the skin of UTHR(J), straddles pages 9 and 10 of the special report 34; “Instead of showing generosity, the Government made maximum mileage of the misery it imposed on Tamil civilians to solicit funds from reluctant donors to pay for the extralegal incarceration of IDPs and for other projects with ulterior aims, such as resettlement or development schemes that could change the ethnic demographics of the north and east to further weaken the Tamil community’s claim on those areas.

The fear that the Government will not allow the IDPs to resettle in all the areas they inhabited before the war, and will instead introduce new Sinhalese settlements and their familiar consequences would remain a real fear for the Tamils. …Meanwhile the Government appears totally indifferent to the squalor of the IDPs. The effect of its actions amounts to the decimation of a people by crippling them from birth through deprivation, routine harassment and dirt.”

What left such a profound impression of horror on me was the fact that they were not even bothering to camouflage the chauvinism with a democratic spin, i.e. ‘demographics confer political clout in a democracy and systematic plans to deprive minority communities of regional political clout they have traditionally enjoyed by changing established demographics are not exactly cricket’. Even that would have sounded dodgy without definite evidence of a systematic agenda. For example it’s not enough to show that the President got up one morning full of plans for Northern development and North-South highways and remarked to his brothers, “you know what all this would ultimately lead to, don’t you fellas?” and they remarked with relish “yes demographic change!” and looked like cats with cream. You need to show systematic manipulation of the system, to exclude or sideline the Tamil component of the population from participating in the enterprise, in order to bring about the desired demographic result.

However, where was I? Ah yes being horrified at Hoole’s chauvinism and hypocrisy. This horror led me to ask the opinion of someone who (in my perception) had always been liberal with the scorn for Sinhala chauvinism but trodden softly, like through fields of Tulip, when it came to anything that could be reasonably be interpreted as Tamil chauvinism. This person is none other than Dr. Michael Roberts who replied to my query in an email dated August 2011;

“Note that Rajan and the UTHR cluster in the north were caught in the middle in the period 1987-2009; and that both Rajan and Sritharan had to go into hiding from the LTTE. In short they were in extreme danger once Rajani T was assassinated. Even in Colombo Rajan moved around and when I set up a meeting with him once circa 2001 had to wait his call via Nesiah and for them to arrange a meeting.

He is an intense bloke with little warmth but earnest and assiduous. A Calvinist to the bone. This does not of course preclude errors of judgment but he will in my view never concoct material in the manner of Channel 4, Darusman etc. Whether he accepts or reprints testimony from liars is another matter.

If Rajan is buying into the standard claims re the Eastern Province as part of the “traditional homelands” then I would challenge him.

Re the present fear that the present govt is going to settle Sinhalese in areas that housed Tamils in the recent past (not just the pre-48 past): in voicing this fear Rajan is moving with the tide of articulate Tamil opinion (and some anti-govt Sinhalese). As far as I know this fear is unsubstantiated and has not come to pass but I have an open mind on the issue.

As for his comments on the IDP camps as “extra-legal” and having terrible conditions, my response would be (a) yes extra-legal but requisite in the interests of the rest of the population on a short-term basis and (b) the conditions were not that terrible and a remarkable job was done by govt and NGO and INGO agencies in catering to those people. On this issue he is speaking from the cloisters in Colombo or wherever.

In 1987-20009 Rajan and Co were in a crunch sandwich situ between Sinhala-dominated state and the LTTE (with latter as greater threat). NOW with the LTTE out their structured political situation is that of a former Tamil dissident faction that pursues its Tamilness by taking up Tamil grievances and thus liable to press exaggerations, pedantic claims and unrealistic demands.”

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