Friday, May 1, 2009

The Trauma of the Thamil Diaspora: Quitting the "De Facto Eelam" (DFE) to hide in the "No-Flee-Zone" (NFZ)

by Gam Vaesiya, Ontario, Canada

The retreat from "de facto myth" to "remorseless reality"

The Thamil Diapora which has nourished and nurtured the Tiger Movement for years has come to a moment of almost delusional denial. Even six or seven months ago, the diaspora Pundits and some "defense experts" claimed that Killinochchci (Giranikke), the erst-while capital capital of the so-called "De facto Eelam" (DFE), would prove to be the "Stalingrad" of the Sri Lankan Army.

Instead, events moved even faster than the organizing capabilities of the usually agile Damila Diaspora activists. They watched in astounded disbelief, the successive dismantling of the Tiger enclaves from Illupikavai (Meepathota or "Madhupatheetha of the Mahavamsa) and Poornaryn (Punranna) on the west coast, then Elephant Pass (Alimankada), Paranthan (Puranthaenna), Iranamadu (Ranamaduva), Killinochchi (Giraanikke), Puthukudirippu (Aluthkulissa), and finally Mullaitivu (Mooladoova) linked with Palaamattalan (Palaamassla), right on the east coast of Sri Lanka. In this process, the Tigers cajoled, ordered and force marched the less well-to-do Tamils of these villages to retreat with them. The more well-to-do, i.e., usually higher-caste Tamils, could afford to pay the "exit fee" and leave. Finally, some 200,000 people, dubbed the "wretched of the Vanni" by Jeyraj, were concentrated into a sliver of sea-shore stretching from Aluthmassala (Puthumattalan) to Vael-butu-gala (Vellamullivaikkal) - the so called "No-Fire-Zone (NFZ). In effect, the NFZ was nothing but the "No-Flee-Zone" created by the Tigers, secured by three meter high earth walls (Murippu) built using forced labour, and guarded by its dwindling armed cadre whose job was to shoot at any Tamils trying to escape! The suicide corps of black tigers, previously used against Sinhalese targets in the south, were now unleashed against any civilians trying to flee this No-Flee-Zone.

The collusion of some of the Tamil Intellectuals and religious dignitaries in the forced displacement of civilians in step with the Tigers was fore-shadowed by the removal of the Sacred statue of the Madhu Shrine. In facing the Government's effort to free the Madhu church area, the Tigers used the sacred site as a shield by stationing its guns in the vicinity. The sacred statue itself was whisked away by into Tiger-controlled Bellanvila (Vellankulam).. In effect, the local church fathers as well as Hindu Kururals and "Sudar Oli-type" intellectuals were complicit in the forced marching of the "wretched of the Vanni". Thus the diaspora had its local exponents in the upper castes of Tamil society, even though there is an awesome chasm between the Diaspora Tamils and the "Wreathed of the Vanni".

The "psyche" of the Tamil diaspora

The eschatology of the Hebrew religions is based on transferring the Sins of Man to the Son of God, the "sacrificial lamb". However, the rise of Islam, and the Crusades brought in the dimension of Jihadist worriers as well as Christian Knights who were anointed as saints for massacring Moslems. Even today, names like "Maurenbrecher" are proudly flaunted by upper class Europeans whose forefathers literally "broke many moors". The dominating concept here was the "liberation of the holy land". The Tamil intellectuals who grew up in the 1950s to 1970s were also subject an increasing crescendo of political thinking where "Liberating the Traditional Homelands of the Tamils (LTHT)" became a dominant, sacred theme, as remarked by A. J. Wilson himself. Already in the 1949 declaration of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), this concept of the LTHL had been delineated. But Sri Lanka's historical interregnum in the hands of D. S. Senanayake was an attempt to push the "Ceylonese" ideal of a united, multi-cultural Sri Lanka with a gradualist approach to nationalist questions of language and religion. However, with the demise of D.S. Senanayake, there was no one with the political stature and sagacity to carry forward the "Ceylonese" program. The leftist intellectuals were hell-bent on creating civil dissension as a prelude to the "imminent Marixist revolution". Colvin R de Silva, a distinguished historian in addition to his other monumental achievements, could decry the civilization of Pollonaruwa as "mere mounds of bricks". They could not fore-see the nationalist revolution that blew up right in their faces, with S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike in the saddle. An earlier generation of Tamil nationalists, i.e., the generation of J. V. Chelliah, Perimpanayagam and thers who misguided themselves with the Jaffna boycott of the 1930s, might have sympathized with S. W. R. D and even joined hands with him. If that had happened, and given the fact that S. W. R. D. was in no way a narrow chauvinist, a very different ethnic evolution may have been possible in Sri Lanka. But the ITAK was made up of highly-anglicized, Christianized upper-class Tamils who would have no truck with Sinhalese-Buddhist Nationalists or worry about the simplistic economic aspirations of the low-caste Tamils. It was these very Tamil leaders, like Chelvanayagam and others, who had opposed various developmental programs like the construction of various causeways that could connect the low-caste villages in the North (see Jane Russell, Communal Politics Under the Donoughmore Constitution, Tissara Publishers). Thus the underlying leitmotiv of the Tamil Nationalist movement was the Liberation of the Tamil Homelands, while the cry of "discrimination by the majority" was a useful additional factor supportive of the basic objective - Eelam.

The "sacrificial paradigm"

A number of authors have, from time to time, explored the question of suicide as well as self-immolation used by the Tamil activists as an arm (aayudtham) of their battle. Most recently, Michael Roberts, in a cluster of articles that appeared in a number publications, viz., "Ground Views", "Transcurrents", "The Island", and in "The Sri Lanka Guardian (, have examined the religio-cultural underpinnings of this psyche. His discussions, as well as those of the pro-LTTE writers like Peter Schalk, seem to suggest that Hindu cultural traditions provide a justification, acceptance and adulation of such practices that modern society would regard as "inhuman". Roberts suggests that the individual's identity becomes subservient to that of the "Nation" in the accepted ethos of this culture. In addition, we have Tamil intellectuals justifying the acts of female suicide bombers, why claiming that it is "just vengeance" against soldiers who allegedly raped Tamil women. The recruitment of children for the war is also looked upon and justified as an act directed to a 'higher purpose".

I believe that the analysis of Roberts is largely correct, especially when viewed in the light of a sanctified notion of the "liberation of the Traditional Homelands of the Tamils". The LTHT" concept had already existed in the 1930s, in the political program of G. G. Ponnambalam who initiated the attacks on the Mahavamsa in his political speeches, even leading to the first "Sinhala-Tamil" riot in 1939 (see The post-independent Tamil nationalist movement quickly returned to "Mahavamsa bashing" as well as the writing of highly dressed-up heroic histories of the "Jaffna Kingdom" to support the LTHTconcept. Pro-Eelamist political theorists began to claim that today's politics should not be based on today's configuration of power, but on what they claim to have existed when Sri Lanka was captured by the Portuguese! The claims of separation as well as power-devolution have been strongly diluted by this type of extremist historical positions, as well as federalism, where federalism is implied to mean federation with Tamil Nadu and NOT with Sri Lanka (See discussion in an article by Rasalingam in the Sri Lanka Guardian:

Systemic and Mediatic influences and the collective psyche

However, the thesis ably exposed by Roberts has not yet dealt with two aspects of the Tamil socio-cultural scene which are, in my view, equally important in determining the dynamics of the Diaspora as well as the "Wretched of the Vanni". One of them is "systemic", while the other is "mediatic". The first is related to the existence of a caste-command structure in Tamil society. It is by nature a subservient society. Many Colombo housewives would testify that their "Tamil house-hold helps ("houseboys") are "most loyal, hard working and subservient". These house boys" are almost always low caste ("working class") Tamils from the hills or the Vanni farmlands. Centuries of caste conditioning has made these people obey their masters, Kururals, or Chruch fathers, with never a whimper. The apex of this system in recent times has been captured by a Karaivar, viz., Prabhakaran, who earned his place by his brutality and battle-field brilliance. It is this command structure, and the power of the gun, that moved the people from Jaffna to the Vanni in 1995-6, and then the Vanni to the No-Flee-Zone in 2009. If left alone, the "wretched of the Vanni" would have simply preferred to live in their villages, and farm the earth, with little care for the high politics of Eelam. However, even the wretched of the Vanni could be touched by the rhetoric of the Tigers. This rhetoric forviolence has a mediatic origin as well. Tamil films are ubiquitious and BEYOND any "rating" as they are extremely violent. Movie heroes in a classical story would use swords, arson and massacre in a manner that would put to shame the Gods who burnt the city of Madurai in the story of Silappadikaram. If the movie deals with modern material, the Tamil heroes would use modern weapons, bombs and explosives with a show of unparalleled violence. Such material was available freely to the "Wretched of the Vanni", as well as to the youngsters of the Diaspora. The role played by movie stars like Ramachandran and others in the rise of Tamilar Terrorism in Sri Lanka should be the subject of research for serious media sociologists. Indeed, Tamil Nadu conscripted its actors into its politics long before California collected Regan and Schwarzenegger.

Of course, the hill-country Tamils also were subject to such mediatic influences. They too could have become violent if their masters (i.e, Thonadaman Sr. and others) had attempted to rouse them up. Fortunately, Thondaman did not wish to bring the genie out of the bottle. Only the Sinhala Marxist leaders tried to excite the estate workers for "direct action", but failed to make any substantial in roads to that culture. Bringing socialism to a caste-dominated society has been a challenge in Sri Lank as well as in India. But a heroic cult of "liberating the homelands" fitted in with the systemic and mediatic givens of the political arena. The TULF leadership stirred the pot in Vaddukkoddei (Batakotte) and brought out the genie, almost as in a Tamil more or macabre theater. The Tamils who lived in the areas subject to the LTTE had no difficulty in deifying Prabhakaran, linking him with many of the heroic, violent figures of the Tamil silver screen. The diaspora children too could identify Parbhakaran as some kind of Avatar of Rama, (or St Patrick if they are Catholics), in the heroic setting of Tamil movies which they can identify with a far off land like Sri Lanka. Movies like Virumandi, Veyil, Kathal, Paruthi have had a wide acceptance in western Tamil society and are perhaps more palatable to the adults than the extremely violent Tamil films that are even more popular with the younger set. The Tamil community TV shows available in Ontario and elsewhere have also been conscripted into this violent agenda.

The demonstrations of the Diaspora in the western capitals

The resumption of parliamentary sessions in many western capitals after the Easter break was the signal for the long-befuddled Tamil diaspora to at last launch a coordinated campaign against the Sri Lankan government, claiming that the government was planning to annihilate hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians under the pretext of eliminating the Tigers. Unsubstantiated claims of use of cluster bombs, chemical weapons etc., were launched indiscriminately. The western aid agencies, NGOs and journalists, incensed by their having been kept out of the theater of action by the Sri Lanka authorities, assumed the worst and joined with the Diaspora in claiming a humanitarian catastrophe. That the humanitarian catastrophe was largely the making of the Tigers was ignored in this barrage of words.

Although an increasing number of dissident Tamil intellectuals have been denouncing the Tigers, and demanding "Let My people Go" (e.g., editor of the Uthuyan, the Diaspora has firmly established an amnesia regarding a most inconvenient and unpalatable truth. namely, the Tigers that they have been nourishing and defending can no longer be defended, even within the heroic concept of "liberating the traditional homelands of the Tamils". The hero has proven to be a sadistic tyrant. The No-fire zone became a concentration camp and no-flee-zone to the trapped Tamil civilians.

Thus the extended demonstrations had two purposes. It was to force the western politicians, using Hindu extra parliamentary methods like threatening to "fast unto death", to intervene directly in Sri Lanka. Given that the West has not intervened even in Zimbabwe, and Dafur, and watched with satisfaction the brutal attack on Lebanon and the Gaza, this "hope" of the Diaspora Eelamists was an empty pipe dream. Nevertheless, spending millions of dollars that could have been more humanely sent to the IDP camps, they went to the western capitals, brandishing the banned Tiger flag with its bullets and guns, and screamed and agitated with incantations claiming "Genocide".

But this exercise was NOT in vain. It was a catharsis for the Diaspora Eelamists. It was a rite of transfer of guilt. The guilt of having funded and fed the Tiger. This guilt has to be transferred onto the western leaders and the Sri Lankan government in a public ritual. A Yajna (Yaga) exercise in the best traditions of Samkara Bhagavatpada's exhortation "aduditam karma svanusthiyatam". If Thaleepan could be offered as a human sacrifice in Nallur in protest against the Indian Army, can we not even have a "fast unto death" in front of the Canadian parliament, to protest against the Sri Lankan Army? The sins of the Tamil diaspora are transferred to the Sri Lankan Army, and the Canadian parliamentarians, in this Karmic Act.

The Gods would not listen, because no Sanskrit was used in these rites.