Tamil psyche: after two years since the end of the war

Some politicians in the Government like Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa argue that with the decimation of the LTTE leadership the root causes of the war have vanished, thereby relieving the authorities from finding any political solution to the ethnic problem.

At the same time the Tamil political parties still insist on their decade-old-demand for self rule, while a section of the Tamil Diaspora is still pressing for a separate Tamil State within the Sri Lankan territory. 

During the war it was very difficult for one to find an ordinary northerner who was not supportive of a separate Tamil State, leave alone anyone who was against the concept. Needless to say that those engaged in EPDP politics were exceptions. Has the crushing of the LTTE leadership by the armed forces made any impact on the Tamil psyche? 

Finding an answer to this question still seems to be laborious since the people, especially those from the north are apparently skeptical of their surrounding and are still not fully opening up their minds to the outsiders. However, there are exceptions where few people speak somewhat freely, seemingly due to a secure feeling owing to their relatively balanced outlook.  

During a recent visit to Wanni we observed a change in the outlook of some Tamils towards the sensitive issues related to the ethnic problem. Ironically, no one we encountered recollected the major grievances that were put forward by the traditional Tamil political parties and the Tamil armed groups as the main causes for the armed conflict in the country, in their original form or phrases.

The Tamil groups in late seventies and early eighties were complaining about several key issues which they claimed to have seriously affected the lives of Tamil people. The imposition of the “Sinhala only” policy by the SWRD Banadaranaike government in 1957, the “Sinhalese colonization” by several governments in the traditional Tamil areas and the standardization policy for the university admission were among them.     

These issues seemed to be new to majority of ordinary people we talked to, and they vaguely attributed the armed strife to things such as “discrimination”, “imposition of majoritarianism of the Sinhalese by the government on Tamil speaking people” and “lack of democracy.”    

When we specifically posed the question as to whether the standardization policy introduced by the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government in 1973 for the university admission had been a cause for the conflict many people we met were clueless. This may be due to the fact that a lot of new issues have cropped up submerging the theorized ones, with the escalation of the conflict. 

Meanwhile, some others said that not only the Sinhalese students in southern backward areas but also Tamil students in northern backward areas had benefited by the policy, in spite of the fact that students in Jaffna where there are schools with much facilities affected. Before May, 2099 one would have been surprised to hear such balanced arguments from an ordinary Tamil.

We asked some people we met in the north about the ramifications of the “Sinhala only” Act introduced by the SWRD Bandaranaike government in 1956 on the lives of the Tamil people and whether it was really a cause for the war. The people belonged to the older generation could recollect how some of their contemporaries gave up government jobs following the Act compelled them to pass a Sinhala proficiency test to remain in the job and to get promotions. They were of the view that this situation had some bearing on the mounting of the Tamil frustration in the seventies and eighties. 

However, there are also people now in the north who argue that those who resigned from the public sector in protest of the hegemonic law shouldn’t have done so. They contend that those resignations had reduced the clout of the Tamils in the public sector and that in turn had victimized the Tamils further. 

A salient fact one could observe was that people from all walks of life in the north take the heavy military presence in Wanni and the heavy influx of labourers from the south for the development and rehabilitation projects in the north as irritants. Two years may be too short to thin out the military presence in the region, but the reason for the influx of labourers from the south is not clear.

Nevertheless, the reluctance of even those spoke freely to identify themselves pointed to the fact that the war is not over yet.  

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