by Patali Champika Ranawaka
Was the JHU directly involved in the attempt to remove the Dambulla mosque?
This was the question posed to me by an Indian journalist who contacted me recently. I answered in the negative. His next question was whether the JHU would go in a procession and tear down the mosque in Dambulla in the same way that the Barathiya Janatha Party (BJP) tore down the Barbary Mosque in Ayodhya, which it claimed was the birthplace of God Rama.
I told him no.
I explained that the JHU’s stance was that the prayer hall in question had been built without obtaining permission from either the Ministry of Religious Affairs or the Urban Development Authority. I take great care when answering questions posed by Indian journalists now.
This is because some comments I made regarding the Koodankulam nuclear power plant were taken out of context by some of these same journalists, leading to a major diplomatic incident.
What I told a (local) media institution was that Sri Lanka and India needed a common mechanism for disaster management in the event of an accident occurring at the plant, and that there were three conventions in this regard, which have been approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
I told them that Sri Lanka would attempt to take forward discussions on this proposal with India at the next IAEA session in Vienna. It was reported by the local media institution that Sri Lanka was presenting a resolution to the Vienna sessions regarding signing an agreement with India!
This was later picked up by the Times of India, which claimed that Sri Lanka was going to present a resolution against India’s Koodankulam power plant at the Vienna session, and this was being done as a response to India’s vote against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva!
This resulted in many Tamil Nadu politicians such as Karunanidhi making thundering statements that Sri Lanka had no right to meddle in India’s internal affairs. These politicians, who speak of the rights of Tamils in Sri Lanka, forget that there are daily eight hour power cuts in Tamil Nadu, whereas the Tamil people in this country get 24 hour electricity.
They also conveniently forget that those displaced by terrorism in Sri Lanka were provided electricity free of charge, and that this is not the case in Tamil Nadu
The Indian parliamentary delegation that visited Sri Lanka recently also made various statements. On the one hand, what they see when travelling from the South to the North is how the 30-year long war had taken development in Jaffna and the Vanni back by decades. Thus, the initial impression would be that Tamil people in the North had been neglected.
When I spoke to Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who accompanied the Indian delegation, I advised him to also enlighten them about ethnic Tamil enclaves that exist in Sinhala majority areas such as Mattakkuliya, Wellawatta, Dehiwala, and Wattala. Comparing Marine Drive in Wellawatta with the Paranthan–Puthumathalan road will enlighten people as to how the Tamil community, which lived in Sinhala majority areas benefited from development schemes run by the Sri Lankan government, whereas those living in fear under the guns of the LTTE, were subjected to a very different fate.
This would enable anyone to understand that it was Tiger terrorism, and not pressure from the Sri Lankan government and certainly not some so-called racism practiced by the Sinhalese, that brought such suffering on the Tamil community.
Where Western diplomats, some Indian politicians and media, along with some of our own intellectuals and journalists have gone wrong is that they look at Sri Lanka’s issue from an Indian perspective. Some believe ethnic and religious riots, which take place in India are also common in Sri Lanka. They think Sri Lanka also practices India’s highly degrading caste system.
They liken the Maoist movement, popular among tribal peoples in India, to the JVP in Sri Lanka. On one occasion, former President J.R. Jayawardena likened the SLFP’s ‘Vijaya Group’ to the ‘Naxalites’ in India. As such, Indians claim we need a governing system along the lines of India’s political model.
I told the Indian journalist who posed the question about Dambulla that Buddhists and Muslims in Sri Lanka do not behave the same way as the BJP, along with Hindus and Muslims, behaved in India. The JHU emphasized that the Dambulla issue was one for the government.
On April 16, 1981, then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa gazetted the Dambulla Raja Maha Vihara urban development area. On June 28, 1984, then Minister of Lands Gamini Dissanayake brought these lands under the government. On March 24, 1994, Minister Sirisena Cooray took steps to redevelop the Dambulla sacred area. It was this situation that the Asgiri maha nayaka thera and chief incumbent of Dambulla Raja Maha Viharaya tried to explain.
Yet, some opportunists attempted to portray this as Sri Lanka’s version of Ayodhya. Another group tried to make this the first shot fired in anger during the upcoming Eastern provincial council elections. However, the Buddhist and Muslim communities were far more intelligent than they believed to accept such statements.
I also told this Indian journalist that the situation in Sri Lanka is entirely different from India. The Indian Express once carried a news report detailing how in 1984, as many as 3000 persons were killed due to anti-Sikh riots, which erupted after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by one of her own Sikh bodyguards.
However, not a single Tamil was harmed even after Tamil racism led to the assassinations of eminent personalities such as President Ranasinghe Premadasa and Opposition Leader Gamini Dissanayake, along with the attempted assassination of President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
The riots of July 1983 occurred as the then government did not enforce the law. It was more a case of a complete breakdown in law and order. If not, we would not see so many Tamils back in Colombo and suburbs within a few months of the disturbances.
Meanwhile, TNA’s Mavai Senathirajah has apologised to the Tamil people for party leader R. Sambanthan’s decision to hoist the Lion flag at the joint UNP-TNA May Day rally in Jaffna. Mano Ganeshan however, has praised him for the gesture. It is encouraging to see Sambanthan embracing the national flag and national anthem.
The national flag and anthem also won approval from Tamil leaders including G.G. Ponnambalam in 1948. The TNA should be realistic even at this late stage. It must accept the fact that the dream of Eelam they saw in 1970 died with Prabhakaran. However, some hardcore separatists and extremists in Tamil Nadu still cling onto this dream.
This is akin to the dream still held by some living overseas of establishing a “Khalistan” in Punjab. It would become much easier for us to work for the upliftment of the Tamil people if the TNA accepted this fact. However, we must also be willing to come forward to undertake this endeavor with or without the TNA. courtesy: The Nation.lk