The speech by the former State Minister of Children’s Affairs Vijayakala Maheswaran has been magnified in the media as a call by her for the return of an LTTE administration to maintain law and order and secure the safety of women in the North.
I have used the term outburst because the content of the speech is not in the form of a considered statement and is more in the nature of an emotional outburst. The sexual abuse and murder of a six-year-old child and another incident mentioned by the ex-Minister had evidently put her into an emotional state where she hit out at her own Government’s inability to maintain law and order and made her mindful of an earlier period when discipline was strongly enforced, and she suggested the revival of the LTTE as the panacea.
My objective, however, is to point out that she and others like her seemed to have missed the elephant in the room, which is the community in which these crimes are being committed and the need to try and reform this community. In this instance for example the crime itself was not committed by outsiders but by the child’s own 22-year-old relative. While the police, no doubt have a responsibility to maintain law and order, they cannot be expected to be in charge of or control the moral values and behaviour of the larger community in which these crimes take place. Vijayakala also refers to widespread drug use and alcohol imbibing prevalent in the north and refers to politicians as bringing these items into the society.
Obviously all these factors are interconnected with the prevalent sexual abuses and assaults as well as gang violence and robberies.
There is a perception among a section of society that there is the sense of a general malaise in this community where many young people in the urban centres particularly, prefer to be dependent on the remittances of hardworking relatives abroad rather than undertake some gainful employment themselves. Combining with this is lack of interest in education and instead the urge to go abroad to western countries where they imagine an easier life is possible. The interest in education and learning which was the hallmark of the Jaffna man is sadly less evident.
I would say that these are all features of a society which is still coming out of the trauma of a 30- year war, the theatre of which has been the northern and eastern provinces. Presently, the Tamil- speaking people feel excluded from the body politic. They feel that they have no part in the administration of the Country. A visit to the Central Ministries in Colombo would strengthen this view not only because of the paucity of Tamil-speaking officers in these Ministries but also because of the indifference to matters concerning these provinces.
This sense of not having a role to play leads to the general malaise in the society and makes the young people feel that they have no future in this country. This is also what makes some sections of the people recall the LTTE administration favourably as in the case of Vijayakala. Because, during this period, whatever the hardships and strict discipline enforced, the Tamil people were at the centre of the administration. Their concerns, language and culture were given importance.
This is what lies at the back of Vijayakala’s cry ‘what has this government done for us except give back some lands of ours they had taken?’. So if this Government is to win the confidence of the people, they must actively engage with the people.
Whether it is Reconciliation or Rehabilitation, the people must be given a participatory role. It should not be a top down bureaucratic exercise. The official languages policy must be actively enforced so that Tamil citizens of the Country can at least receive communications from their government in their own language.
There must be symbolic steps taken as for example the National Anthem must be always sung in both languages when the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation closes its services at night. In Singapore, for example, the broadcasts are in all four languages of the citizens, including Tamil.
Institutions such as the Provincial Council and Tamil-speaking people with executive power in the central government such as Vijayakala should also be playing a positive role. The Minister in charge of Children’s Affairs could have initiated programmes to raise awareness of child protection, instead of merely railing against the government of which she herself was a State Minister.
Of course she could not change the community single-handedly but other responsible bodies like the Provincial Council and religious institutions also have a responsibility towards it. They could also undertake campaigns against these abuses and focus attention on these aspects of the communities lives. Inaugurating more cultural activities, public lectures on educational and other matters and distance education through the TV and the internet could also be tried as a means of weaning people away from their addiction to drink and drugs. If the Community feel that the Police are not proactive enough, why not encourage young people, and especially young women to join the Police force?
In Tamil Nadu, for example, Police stations run by Policewomen alone (All Women Police Stations had been instituted by the late Chief Minister Jayalalitha and have proved very successful as women feel more comfortable reporting sexual crimes at these police stations). The requirement of a pass in mathematics at the O/Levels for constables which is, I understand, a stumbling block for would-be recruits is due to the lack of Mathematics teachers in the schools. This could be rectified by giving exemptions for candidates from certain districts for a stated period , while also providing more mathematics teachers to schools in the rural areas.
It must be recognized as a policy that the areas which were war affected be given certain concessions till they can be brought up to the required standards. A major requisite for maintaining law and order in the Province is to improve the existing Police services. The Police strength has to be brought up with the recruitment of more recruits from the province, as well as streamlined removing indiscipline and corruption from the ranks. The Police should be able to function in the Tamil language, receiving complaints and writing down statements in that language.
There is another aspect of the speech which merits analysis. Vijayakala’s outburst also brings out her perception and probably that of others in the community as well, as to what is the best form of governance and what constitutes law and order in a society. It is here that I feel apprehension because she seems to imply that law and order and security of people in general, is best maintained under a dictatorial or authoritarian form of governance. Hence she shows nostalgia for that aspect of the era when the LTTE-controlled several parts of the North and East, and calls for the return of such an administration.
It is well known that the LTTE maintained a strict discipline and close watch over the people under their control. For that reason women as well as people in general were able to move around freely without fear. Armed gangs would have been given short-shift, and crimes such as sexual abuse and harassment would receive summary justice. However, Vijayakala prefers not to remember that there were many young girls and boys in the rural villages in the north and east especially in extremely poor and depressed class villages who were taken away from their weeping parents forcibly and made to fight in the war only to die as cannon fodder.
A Court in the Netherlands in 2015, used the evidence compiled by a Dutch female tourist about Tamil girls in the Eastern Province abducted and forcibly conscripted as child soldiers, while on their way to tuition classes, to convict five persons collecting money for the LTTE. Abduction itself is a crime and conscription of children to fight in a war is a war crime. Furthermore in such a society, there are no checks and balances. All dissent is severely punished. For this reason, so many Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (Federal party) MPs, including their late leader Appapillai Amirthalingam were mercilessly gunned down because they took the view that a negotiated settlement, and non-violent methods were the way to solve the ethnic problem and win Tamil rights. Dissent of any kind against the views of the fuhrer is something that is not to be tolerated in such a disciplined society.
In a similar view expressed in the South, none other than the Anunayake of the Malwatha Maha Nikaya, a chief Buddhist prelate has urged a would-be Presidential candidate to be a ‘Hitler’. Obviously this fascination with authoritarianism and dare I say ‘fascism’, although hopefully confined to a few at present, runs on both sides of the ethnic divide.
Hitler, it must be remembered got rid of his political opponents – both Christian Democrats as well as Communists, burnt the Parliament (Reichstag) and carried out a policy of ethnic-cleansing under which six million Jews, Slavs, Gypsies and several other communities (considered vermin) were systematically executed, gassed to death or worked to death in concentration camps. His plans to enlarge the boundaries of the fatherland and to rule the world brought about the World War II and the ultimate destruction of Germany which came to be divided between the four allied powers who had won the war. The Germans underwent terrible suffering, especially those on the eastern front who had to face the advancing Soviet Red Army which had many wrongs to repay.
The Tamils of the north and east have had their share of death and destruction due to the war. Even today we have with us the war widows whom Vijayakala refers to solicitously. But would she want to see a repetition of this same scenario when she calls for the return of an LTTE administration. The Germans, after Hitler, rebuilt their country with sheer grit and determination, to become the powerhouse of Europe under a Federal and Democratic Constitution. This could be an example that Sri Lanka and the North-East Tamils could well emulate rather than indulging in nostalgia for earlier authoritarian or fascist regimes.