An Appeal to the Tamil Community and its Civil and Political Representatives
An Appeal Signed by Tamils on the Eviction of Northern Muslims 21 Years Ago
Since the end of the war in May 2009, it has become important for all ethnic communities of Sri Lanka to re-examine and reevaluate their past. It is through this process of self-reflection that some of the major issues that confront state and civil society today can be meaningfully reconceived and reconfigured for the future.
While the war has drawn to a decisive close, the ethnic conflict is far from over and demands solutions short- and long-term. The quest for a viable political solution from a majoritarian state is a primary concern for the Tamil community today. Continued insecurity in the face of militarisation is an urgent matter. Armed militancy and a political culture of violence have further eroded into the democratic fabric of society. Resettlement and rehabilitation remain unresolved problems. Distribution of land, access to state and social networks, language parity, devolution of power, inter-ethnic reconciliation and the continued presence of gender, class and caste stratifications are a part of the political landscape today.
It is in this regard we raise the question of the eviction of the Northern Muslims 21 years ago. In October 1990, the LTTE evicted roughly 80,000 Muslims from the north in the wake of increasing hostilities and armed conflict in the north and east. The LTTE, which was militarily dominant in the north at that time and controlled large swathes of territory, ordered an entire community to leave the province in two days. In the Jaffna peninsula they were given just two hours’ notice. Subsequent to the eviction, several attempts were made by institutional mechanisms to facilitate the return of the communities to their original lands. During the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), there were renewed attempts, particularly through the Secretariat for Immediate Humanitarian and Rehabilitation Needs (SIHRN), to negotiate the return of the Muslims with the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE.
In the current political landscape, the eviction of Muslims from the north and their return and resettlement pose a distinct political challenge to civil and political societies of the Tamil community. While from the time of the CFA, Muslims had been trickling back to their homelands in the north, the conditions for their return had not been congenial. Those who have returned have received hardly any state support for resettlement, and have been met with a certain level of bureaucratic hostility. The erasure of Muslim culture and institutions in the north in the last twenty years has made return less acceptable to the host community, and especially fraught for the returnees.
While recognising that the Tamil community has been under intense stress during and after the war, it is important to remember the plight of the forcibly evicted Muslim community in the north who were subjected to similar privations. The Tamil community’s sufferings and hardship cannot become reasons to sideline the issue of Muslim eviction. As much as we struggle for our survival in the face of external and internal pressures, it is paramount that we re-examine the politics of our own actions, assertions and silences.
The eviction represents one of the worst instances of the narrow, exclusivist thrust of the Tamil nationalist political campaign of the past thirty years. The failure of our civil and political leadership to understand and acknowledge this has prevented us from dealing with our own past, and with our own moral and political responsibility towards minority communities that live amidst us. An examination of how we have contributed to the polarisation of relations between our two communities has not been forthcoming even after the end of the thirty-year war. We must realise at least now that there is no exclusive political solution for the Tamil community, and that the question of political power sharing and equal rights confronts all minority communities. Inter-ethnic reconciliation and dialogue between communities, in particular the Muslim and Tamil communities, are essential processes to arrive at a sustainable political solution. The document The Quest for Redemption: the Story of the Northern Muslims, prepared by the Citizens’ Commission on the expulsion of Muslims by the LTTE recently made a most damning pronouncement about the silence of the Tamil community on the eviction. We need to break through this silence if we are to move toward a genuine process of reconciliation.
Today, as we are compelled to forge new paths of activism for our own survival, we need to formulate responses that are borne out of dialogue with different communities. This is essential if we are seeking a just and democratic political solution. As a step toward this, there has to be a public disavowal of the eviction. We shall wholeheartedly say that never again will such a heinous act as the eviction take place amidst us. Never again shall we condone such acts of ethnic cleansing. Importantly, it is necessary for us as a community, while revisiting this event and its continuing legacy, to set up an inter-ethnic mechanism to bring about dialogue and facilitate an easy return and resettlement process of the Muslims in the north.
Tamil society can no longer be isolationist and act on its own without paying heed to the concerns of other communities. We shall engage in questions of marginalisation, discrimination and injustice touching upon any community. And we shall unreservedly pledge our support to promote the pluralist character of society at all levels in our midst, and embrace a politics of inclusivity in the interests of democracy, justice and equality.
Signatories: Mr. P. Ahilan, Dr. Darshan Ambalavanar, Ms. Jovita Arulanantham, Ms. Kundhavi Balachandran, Mr. Sivakolunthu Buvanakumar, Dr. Godwin Constantine, Dr. Kumar David, Mr. R. Devarajan, Ms. Cayathri Divakalala, Dr. S. Ganesan, Mr. Shaseevan Ganeshananthan, Mr. P. B. Gowthaman, Dr. Rajan Hoole, Ms. Sithiravel Ithaiyarani, Mr. T. Antony Jeganathan, Ms. Vasuki Jayasankar, Dr. T. Jayasingam, Mr. D.B.S. Jeyaraj, Mr. Theliwattai Joseph, Mr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, Mr. Silan Kadirgamar, Ms. Niyanthini Kadirgamar, Ms. Sarvam Kailasapathy, Ms. Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai, Dr. S.V. Kasynathan, Mr. Thirukovil Kaviyuvan, Mr. Sathy Kulasingam, Mr. Prithiviraj Kulasingham, Prof. Vijaya Kumar, Ms. Maha Luxmy Kurushanthan, Mr. K.C. Logeswaran, Mr. S. Manisegaran, Mr. Chandrasekaran Manimaran, Mr. P. Muthulingam, Mr. V. Nandakumar, Ms. Malini Paramaguru, Ms. Nirmala Rajasingam, Ms. Vasuki Rajasingam, Mr. Sanjayan Rajasingham, Mr. C.Rajeshkumar, Ms. A. Renu, Ms. Kumudini Samuel, Ms. Rani Samuel, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Dr. Muthukrishna Sarvananthan, Ms. Ambika Satkunanathan, Mr. Shyam Selvadurai, Rev. Jothini Seenithamby, Dr. T. Shanaathanan, Ms. M. Mangaleswary Shanker, Ms. C. Shanthini, Mr. Shobashakthi, Mr. P.N. Singham, Ms. Vasuki Sivakumar, Mr. K.S. Sivakumaran, Dr. Sumathy Sivamohan, Mr. Subramaniam Sivathasan, Mr. Balasingam Skanthakumar, Mr. M. Sooriyasekaram, Dr. K. Sritharan, Rev. M. Jude Sutharshan, Mr. H.D. Thampoe, Ms. Priya Thangarajah, Mr. Kandiah Thanikasalam, Mr. R. Thevamaran, Prof. S. Thillainathan, Dr. Sharika Thiranagama, Mr. M. Thiruvarangan, Mr. Uma Varatharajan, Mr. Godfrey Yogarajah, Mr. Ronnie Yogarajah