“To change masters is not to be free”
Jose Marti (eddosrios.org )
The photograph is iconic; Alavi Moulana, 83 years old and an SLFP veteran of 52 years, bending down and kissing the hand of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
That picture is revelatory of the current Lankan reality at multiple levels. It shows what citizens have to do if they are to prosper under Rajapaksa Rule. It shows what SLFPers have to do if they want are to get ahead in a Rajapaksa-party. It shows what minorities have to do if they are to survive in a Rajapaksa country.
The Rajapaksas believe that by defeating the LTTE they won the right to do to and with Sri Lanka what they please.
The nature of the war cannot but have a bearing on the nature of the peace that follows, especially if the peace-builders are the same ones who won the war.
Lankan peace is a peace of absences. For Northern/Eastern Tamils it is a peace sans normalcy; they eke out a humiliated and right-less existence, under a de facto military occupation. For the Muslims it is a peace sans security; they live with fear not knowing when and why – the next attack on their community would come. For the Sinhalese it is a peace sans a peace-dividend; their economic woes are exacerbating. All are being deprived of their political rights and democratic freedoms; all are being compelled to live in a land where the law of the rulers has supplanted the rule of law. The main difference is that many Sinhalese still retain a sliver of hope of a better future; most Tamils probably never had any while most Muslims seem to be losing theirs.
The Rajapaksas have redefined politics as the continuation of war by other means. Disbelieving in the existence of an ethnic problem, they are not interested in implementing a political solution. For them the ‘Northern problem’ was just a ‘terrorist problem’; the terrorists are annihilated, ergo, there is no problem. Their approach to peace building is non-consensual and non-democratic. Minorities, as guests in a Sinhala-Buddhist country, are expected to accept their secondary status with good grace. Those who protest, peacefully and democratically, are treated as racists/traitors.
The Sinhala-Buddhists are expected to be content with their illusory sense of superiority over the minorities and accept the relentless economic-lashings as the price of Pax Sinhala. To take their mind off the absent peace-dividend and other discontents, they are being fed on a daily fare of threats and enemies. According to this racist/xenophobic narrative, though the Eelam War is won, the Tiger is undead, our enemies are legion and the barbarians are at the gate. We must be vigilant about such ‘snares’ as ‘human rights’ and ‘media freedom’.
When the President, himself, in his Victory-commemoration speech, castigates ‘human rights’, ‘media freedom’ and the ‘independence of the judiciary’ as ‘strategies tried out by these (external) forces to rule our Motherland’, when he equates the protection of democracy and human rights with separatism and does so with a face contorted by anger, the future that is in the making becomes as unambiguous as cyanide.
Hate and fear has an indispensable place in this Sri Lanka.
Since peace it is not dependent on the freely given consent of the minorities, an omnipresent military is needed to underpin it; force is also necessary to keep the majority in check. The galloping militarization is thus another indispensable feature of this unequal, unjust and intolerant peace. Lankan militarization is a guided-militarization, a militarization in which the military is subordinate to the Ruling Siblings and functions as an instrument of familial rule. In return, the military is allowed to build its own economic/business empire. The latest step in this process is the creation of ‘army farmers’: “For the first time in military history, persons who were recruited to the Sri Lanka Army as farmers started their duty on the 12th of May” . These ‘militarised civilians’ are currently employed at the Kandakadu farm which the army took over from the LTTE. Will Navy-fishermen be next?
This militarization is as disastrous for the majority community as it is for the minorities, and not just for economic reasons. Even as 6,400 acres of Tamil-owned land in Valikamam North is being taken-over to build military cantonments, 1220 acres of Sinhala-owned land in Panama (Ampara district) is being acquired to build camps and hotels. In the confluence of these two acts of injustices, the right-less future which awaits the absolute majority of Lankans can be foreseen.
Enthroning Hate and Dishonour
Last week, the military commander of the Vanni district reminded the Tamil people of one of the most essential components of this peace the criminalisation of mourning: “Any citizen has the right to commemorate their loved ones but no one can commemorate terrorists who were disloyal to the government. If persons are planning to remember LTTE members it is treason. We will arrest whoever is involved in this”.
It is one thing to prevent the commemoration of Vellupillai Pirapaharan and other Tiger-chieftains. It is quite another thing to ban hundreds of thousands of ordinary Tamil families from commemorating their loved ones.
How would the Sinhala-South have reacted had the government/army imposed a similar ban after winning the Second Insurgency and arrested Sinhala families who mourned their JVP-dead?
Would that have led to reconciliation or to greater hate?
Is a mother expected to stop loving her child simply because he/she was a Tiger?
Does a parent, a spouse, a child, a sibling, a grandparent become a traitor because he/she weeps for a loved one who fought in the LTTE ranks?
How can a human know peace, if he/she is not allowed to mourn a dead child or a parent or a sibling, or a spouse or a loved one?
How can there be closure without mourning?
How can there be forgetting without remembering?
What kind of peace is this?
Perhaps the only kind of peace which can be created by a leadership which opposed the provision of a high nutrition biscuit to Tamil children in the war-zone (by the UNICEF) on the ground that it will be used by the LTTE.
In Sophocles’ Ajax, the eponymous Greek General turns traitor, plans to kill other Greek leaders and, in the end, takes his own life. The enraged Greek commanders order that the ‘traitor’ be denied an honourable burial. Odysseus opposes this order; asked by Agamemnon why he refuses to trample his hated enemy in death, he cautions against trampling ‘justice underfoot’ out of limitless hate and warns: “Delight not, son of Atreus, in gains which sully honour”.
That is Rajapaksa peace, a state poisoned by hate and sullied by dishonour. So ordinary Tamils are banned from mourning their dead; so Gen. Sarath Fonseka has no place in the victory-commemoration.
Imagine the peace Vellupillai Pirapaharan would have imposed on Tamils had he won the war.
The Rajapaksas are increasingly looking like the enemy they defeated. And the peace they are building is disturbingly like the peace the Tiger would have created, a peace sans justice or mercy, a dishonourable, pitiless, intolerant peace; a violent peace.