Saturday, December 01, 2007
My disgust with the English media continues to grow. Why this silence? Was it because it was not an important enough issue that was worth carrying in their esteemed newspapers? Or is it because they thought the Tamils deserved such treatment? Or is it because they think its a necessary 'action' to curb terrorism and preserve national security and 'some people' unfortunately will have to continue to be treated in this manner for the 'greater' good or rather the welfare of the majority?
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Dayan Jayatilleke (our Permanent Rep to UN in Geneva) responding to Reporters Without Borders condemning the attack on Voice of Tigers as quoted in Today's (30 Nov) Island:
"The radio station concerned is neither an independent media organization nor located in an independent country. In short, it was neither legal nor legitimate. It was not, for instance Al Jazeera or the Serbian TV." (http://www.island.lk/2007/11/30/news14.html)
Is it that the government will attack all 'non-independent media' organisations? There goes all our media organisations!! And not located in an independent country? Is he conceding that Killinochi is no more part of the independent country of Sri Lanka?
And this is our Prof Rajiva Wijesinghe. An extract from an interview that he gave to BBC Asia today. He himself has taken pride in what he has said in the interview that he has got it posted on the Peace Secretariat website.
Presenter: But it is rather unlikely that you have taken out one of their chief egotiators on the very same day we saw colonel Karuna arrested here in London and the charge that’s put is that it was the Sri Lankan government that enabled him to travel – to get him out of the way – on a diplomatic passport.
Dr.Rajiva Wijesinha: That charge I have certainly read and it is conceivable but when I first saw he was in London I thought that this was a wonderful British way of removing a problem and agreeing to have him...I think certainly the fact that Karuna is no longer in the East would help in reducing
some of the tension.
Prof Wijesinghe is known for his almost daily reports on the SCOPP webiste using the space to mud sling on a wide variety of people - Prof. Uyangoda (for calling the secretariat a war secretariat - I am full in agreement with the Professor), Bradman Weerakoon, Rohan Edrisinha, Dr. Saravanamuttu, Sunila Abeyesekera and others who resigned from the advisory committee to the Ministry of Human Rights, the International Commission of Jurists etc etc, and of course the UNP and its leader.
There used to be a time when our public officials though controlled by politicians were careful in showing themselves as apolitical. Nowadays this is not the case. And Dayan an Rajiva are of course political appointees and people who were involved in politics. Rajiva was President of the Liberal Party and Dayan's political credentials are very diverse to elaborate, including his short stint as Minister of Fisheries in the Varadaharaja Perumal North East Provincial Government.
Post Script - 02 December 2007
Todays Sunday Island in its editorail commends Dayan's remarks:
Ambassador Dayan Jayatillake in Geneva competently handled criticism by various organization, including the local Free Media Movement, of the bombing of the Voice of Tigers radio station in Kilinochchi shortly before Prabhakaran’s annual birthday speech by pointing out that VoT was neither an independent media organization nor located in an independent country. It was a propaganda organ of an armed separatist organization designated as terrorist by many countries. The employment of civilians in that facility, if indeed there were any, was a choice made by the LTTE. The target was a legitimate one.
So the message is: "If the LTTE employs civilians then we cant help it. Its unfortunate. LTTE should be blamed. We are helpless"
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Pakistan has been our steadfast supporter during our battle with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for nearly twenty five years now. Through military dictators and democratic leaders, Pakistan has not wavered. Bogollagama has been at sea on these matters. He first issued a statement asking that Pakistan be given time to restore democracy in that country. Then, the CMAG (Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group) of which Sri Lanka is a member Bogollagama gave Sri Lanka's assent to suspend Pakistan. The Commonwealth 'whites' viz., Britain, Australia, Canada and the New Zealand Secretary General Don McKinnon had prevailed upon Bogollagama, or so it seemed. (http://www.sundaytimes.lk/071125/Columns/political.html)
I am not sure why Bogallagoma made a change in stance wheras he speaking at an adjournment motion in Parliament on November 14th had stated,
(The ST reports that CMAG decidednot to ban Pakistan)
I have just returned from London where I attended the extraordinary meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) convened by the Commonwealth Secretary General on Monday to primarily decide on “Developments in Pakistan”. Foreign Ministers from Lesotho, Malaysia, Malta, Sri Lanka and the UK and representatives of Canada, Papua New Guinea, St. Lucia and Tanzania participated in the session. I must say that Sri Lanka was able to play a pivotal role in ensuring that no precipitous action was taken with regard to Pakistan. (http://www.asiantribune.com/index.php?q=node/8262)
Now coming to the issue that i seek to highlight: While our media hastens to condemn action against the suppression of the freedom of expression in this country (sometimes selectively as it does) should it not express solidarity with its Pakistani counterparts when they are being silenced and subjugated? Our media in general private or govt are no different on ceratin matters. They are highly 'nationalistic' at the core and dont take moral and value based positions on ceratin matters. I havent seen a single newspaper that has had the guts to say that democarcay is important for Pakistani people and that Sri Lanka should take a firm stand on this against Pakistan. As evidenced by the Sunday Times reference to the support that the govt gets support for our 'war on terror', that is the only defining line based on which we will take decisions in this country. If its bad for the LTTE its good for us. If its good for the LTTE then its bad for us.
P.S. The implication that 'whites' are the only ones who are bothered about democarcy in Pakistan and that our leaders do not have the guts to stand up to them is 'cheap reporting'. Again evoking national sentiments; the whites reference shows how we still are affected by the 'negative colonial hangover'.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
"Since 1983 Tamils have been migrating from the so called ‘Tamil homeland’ to regions where the Sinhala people form the vast majority. In fact, Tamil migration has significantly changed the demography in these areas. Today, Tamils constitute the majority community in the most important Divisional Secretariat Division in the country, namely, Colombo"
I am not suggesting that the JHU had a direct role in what happened on the 7th of June and earlier in Pettah. But i am wondering the sort of influence that the JHU has on the police establishment and the armed forces. Its not my attempt here to make an assessment about how much of a political impact and reach the party has. But my suspicion is that a good number of people within the top hierarchy of the police establishment while holding similar views that the JHU holds on the ethnic conflict and towards minorities in general, might have indirect contact with the party. The fact that a former DIG is a central committee member of the JHU is one indicator. (who is now an advisor to the ministry of defence as well). I was also shocked to find a photograph of a Senior DIG receiving an award at the recently held JHU National Convention on JHU's www.sinhala.net a couple of weeks back. God save this country!!
Saturday, April 28, 2007
This is an excerpt of an assignment that i wrote on the topic "Should Local Government be recognized as a third tier of government?", as part of the evaluation process for my Bachelor of Laws Year II examinations. There is a lot more that can be said on the topic but as i had limited space and time to do my assignment i couldn't be as detailed as i would have loved to. But most of the basics i hope are covered in the excerpt. The topic becomes even more relevant as the SLFP proposals to the APRC due on the 1st of May are said to propose nothing else but the setting up of 'Grama Sabhas' and Districts Councils as its suggestions for a political settlement!! Footnote 1 and 3 provide additional information.
Fashioning the strengthening of local government as a solution to the ethnic conflict: A mockery of the minorities’ claim for devolution of powers
The setting up of an All Party Representatives Conference and the appointment of an Experts Panel to guide the APRC in formulating a constitutional proposal to find a political settlement to the ethnic conflict by President Mahinda Rajapaksha has yet again revived the discussion on the appropriate state structure to manage ethnic relations in the country. One of the interesting things that came out of this process was the fancy that some sections of the government including the President and a section of the Expert Panel took to the idea of the Panchayat Raj system in India as an appropriate model (subject to certain variations) to devolve powers to. In September 2006 the Union (central) Minister in charge of the subject of Panchayat Raj in
Both the Expert Panel’s committee ‘A’ Interim report and the Committee ‘B’ Interim report refer to the Panchayat Raj system. The Expert Committee ‘B’ in its report provides a lot of space to the subject of Local Government and Panchayat Raj. The substance of these reports relation to Local Government will be referred to in some detail in the next section but a comparison of attitudes is attempted with regards to both the reports handling of the question of devolution of powers and to illustrate how the genuine demand for devolution of powers can be sidelined, circumvented and be a made a mockery of in the name of strengthening local government.
A cursory assessment of committee ‘A’ report will indicate that the report makes fair inroads in identifying a viable mode for devolution of powers. Inter alia, the report suggests for the elimination of the concurrent list, strengthens the provincial list, providing for substantial powers for the second tier of government and suggests for innovative and progressive provisions in handling controversial subjects such as land and the question of merger of the North and East provinces. It also contains some salutary provisions for shared rule at the centre and deals progressively with the problems of the Muslim community and the Up Country Tamils. Hence there is nothing to ‘suspect’ when the Committee report states that they have no problems in introducing a system comparable to the Panchayat raj system or providing constitutional status to and enhancing powers of the Local Government. The committee report ‘B’ on the other hand is unambiguous in its drafter’s intention that they do not believe in devolution as a viable tool for conflict resolution. (In a section titled end notes which contain two sub-sections titled “relevant considerations” and “relevant principles” the drafters of the report place arguments as to why substantial devolution of powers would be unsuitable for
It should be noted that this is not the first time that local government structures have been fancied as appropriate units for ‘devolution’ (?) of power. The District Development Councils initiative of President J.R. Jayawardena in the early 1980s and the proposal of devolving the powers assigned to the provincial councils to the Pradeshiya Sabhas and the establishing of divisional secretariats during President Premadasa’s regime may be cited as examples. Kethesh Loganathan in an article that he wrote in 1992 crisply criticizes this approach with words couched in anger and frustration:
“The haste in which Divisional Secretariats are being established by the Presidential Secretariat and open declarations that the powers of the provincial councils shall be further devolved to the Pradeshiya Sabhas, is not only an act of deceit, but makes a mockery of devolution. As a matter of fact, the Government has ceased even thinking about devolution – the populist rhetoric now is “taking the Government to the people”. But we wish to emphasize that devolution as a solution to the Tamil question should not be confused with decentralization. What our people (ie the Ealam Tamils) seek is not the proximity of the Central Government through administrative decentralization, but provincial or regional autonomy that would ensure to them security, identity and social progress. Decentralization of administration is a matter that each provincial government will have to decide, depending on its need and compulsions.”
The central issues relating to the minorities in this country that Loganathan indicates - security, identity and social progress - especially security and law and order cannot be provided through a local government structure. Hence it will not be healthy to approach local governments as the base for devolution of powers for conflict management. Strengthening local governments is an act of decentralization and not of devolution of powers.
 Muralidhar Reddy. B, “Panchayat Raj useful to
 There was a split in the expert panel on the basis of ideology. The committee ‘A’ report consisted of 11 members of the panel who took a pro-devolution stand. Committee ‘B’ consisted of four of the panelists who took an anti-devolution stand. Two other members wrote separate reports.
 Comparative experiences in countries which have a strong centralized system of federalism narrate similar attempts by those in the Central Government to provide for more powers to the Local Government to under cut the provinces. In
 Kethesh Loganathan in ‘Provincial Councils and Local Government: Their role in Strengthening Liberal Democracy’ ed by Rohan Edrisinha, The Council for Liberal Democracy (1992)
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Paul Brass at ICES on Collective Violence & the Role of Civil Society: Some Notes, Thoughts & Questions
My interest in Paul Brass was stimulated when I came across his book “Ethnicity and Nationalism: Theory and Comparison” when I was doing some research on pluralism. I have maintained an interest in Indian Politics for a very long time and I was naturally attracted to Brass’s work, Brass having spent almost 40 years of research work in India, specifically in Northern and Western India. (My colleagues at the Faculty of Law find American Politics more interesting and sometimes exhibit more involvement in it than local politics in Sri Lanka. To me this is a fall out of the Americanisation of the Global Communications world. At the same time I am also aware that their shift in interest towards American politics is largely because of their frustration with local politics). My interest in Indian politics is because of the fact that I had spent a fair amount of my very early years in Southern Tamil Nadu, the fact that I am a Tamil and because I admire the complex working of the Indian democratic set up with its vastness in population, area and diversity.)
To get back to the lecture, Paul Brass talked about his new book, “Forms of Violence: Riots, Pogroms and Genocide in Modern India” and set out to provide a summary of the arguments in his book. I make note in this post some aspects of his talk that attracted my attention.
The metaphor of a play and collective violence
Brass identifies him with the Instrumentalist school of understanding ethnography and hence rejects primordialism. He said that he does not believe in riots and other forms of violence as spontaneous and passionate responses emanating from people but as orchestrated by ‘institutionalised riot systems’ where violence is instigated, promoted and planned. He stressed on the organizational aspect of communal violence in India. While acknowledging humbly that his arguments would mean nothing new to the ordinary man he set out to use the metaphor of a play when talking about his work on the forms of violence such as riots, pogroms, massacres and violence. He identifies three phases in an organized working system of a riot:
1. The rehearsal phase: This Brass argues, goes on all the time and identifies this as the ‘quite period’, the ‘peaceful period’ or ‘the flat stable part of a graph in a statistician’s worksheet’ where one is unaware that the ‘work is going on all the time’.
2. The activation and enactment phase: This takes place when the time is ripe and has the necessary political context.
3. The Explanation and the interpretation phase: Most of the time Brass noted the explanations that are provided during this phase are false.
He identified the different ‘specialist’ roles played by different people in the different phases of this play. In the rehearsal stage the role of whom he calls ‘fire tenders’ to keep the cultural differences ripe, is key. The politicians are the key actors in all stages of the play but different types of politicians assume importance during the different stages of the play. He also said that the blame is usually cast on hooligans and criminals but said that equally and more importantly people like university professors take part and are equally to blame as well. Also is the role of whom he called ‘locators for sites for the riots to be staged’.
In the activation and enactment stage again politicians, speech makers, college students, lawyers (to release and defend perpetrators), senior politicians (to provide political cover to the perpetrators) are important. He identified in specific with a lot of importance the role of whom he called ‘communication specialists’ (poster plasters, vernacular media etc) at this stage. (Our local ‘communication specialists’ would be the NMAT and the PNM likes). In India the role of the partial, prejudiced anti-Muslim police force also is an important player at this stage. The ‘conversion specialists’, who for example convert processions and demonstrations into stages for violence, are also crucial to the success of this stage of activity.
At the explanation stage things like the commissions of inquiries sprout. (I couldn’t help identifying the recent commission of inquiry that has been set up by the GOSL with this explanation stage though this one doesn’t technically follow a riot). Social scientists are important for what he called the ‘blame displacement’ game.
Brass noted that he hasn’t done any significant work on civil war. But the relevance of his research in Sri Lanka is perhaps is in developing an understanding to the 58, 77 and especially the 83 riots.
Paul Brass’s approach to social analysis was refreshing and his arguments persuasive. There was perhaps nothing in his presentation that was ‘surprisingly’ and ‘astonishingly’ new, but gave a good conceptual framework from which one could think about the problem of collective violence. The arrogance that he displayed when commenting about people whom he disagreed with, amused me. He said that ‘wise’ people always critiqued him about not ‘defining’ terms such as riots and pogroms. He was against defining and labeling and said that this was not natural science for you to name and define objects and substance, but an area of study where you deal with people who constantly think and change. He noted that one man’s riot is one man’s pogrom and perhaps to another a massacre.
Critique of civil society and the ‘civic engagement theory’
What was very interesting was Brass’s highly critical counter to the ‘civic engagement theory’ floated by people like Prof. Varshney. Though he mentioned this in passing without referring to Varshney during his presentation, during the question time he was asked to elaborate.
He had some very valid points which make a contribution to the debate on the question as to how much civil society work can help in preventing and managing conflicts. He made it explicit that he hates the term ‘civil society’ (so does he hate the word ‘democracy’!!). He was of the opinion that theories like civic engagement might be relevant for countries like the US where big bar associations, big interest groups have some consistent and continued influence on the political system. In countries like India there are big associations that do involve the Hindus and Muslims where exchanging greetings between Id and Diwali is made possible. These are not enough to prevent conflict and all the good work that you do can be all undone in a minute or two by politics accompanied by power. These ties and relationships are broken when political movements arise with ferocity, he explained. He criticized the work of Varshney as having no reliable evidence through ethnographical research or democracy.
Brass also mentioned in passing, things that I had read about on India, about how the hierarchy in the political system in India dominated at the top by the high castes is being replaced with by people from the middle castes. He attributed the reasoning to neo liberalism as practiced in India for the past 10-15 years in which the higher castes are increasingly seeking positions in the new power systems dominated by Global Corporations moving away from the traditional spaces of power. He also noted as to how the Communist party led Governments in West Bengal and Kerala have been largely successful in keeping away religious riots from their states. But he was careful and repeated himself when he tried to clarify that he was not a Communist!! But one also needs to keep in mind, reminded by the developments in West Bengal in the past week or so, where local villagers in Nadigram are resisting the (West Bengal) Government’s plan to take away their lands under the guise of the ‘Special Economic Zones for development’ plan and the subsequent violent clashes between the ‘Communist’ Govt and the villagers. I feel that ‘economic riots’ will see the rise in India (with the upsurge in neo-liberal policies) already being manifested through the growing Naxalite movement in the country. Though this was lightly touched upon it would have been interesting to know more of Brass’s response to this development.
‘Grey’ gatherings; where are the young?
I will end this rather lengthy post with this note that I was concerned to see the amount of grey on most of the participants’ hair and wondered where the young intellects in the country are? I also wonder why people like Brass can’t be invited to speak to our students at our universities. In my faculty we hardly have guest lectures. We hear in the newspapers through the hyperactive work of our NGOs the visit of many reputed scholars to the country. Why can’t they be brought into contact with the intellectuals, decision and policy makers of our future? If such academic activities are not possible in our universities how better are they than our secondary schools? At the same time are our youth really interested in these sorts of activities? I have heard very brilliant colleagues of mine expressing with disgust how fed up they are with these type of activities because of the frustration they have with the local civil society groups’ very limited capacity to impact on our political process, culture and system. The question they ask is: “What do you want us to do by getting involved in these activities? Write papers and get invited for conferences?!!” We are definitely in a rather complex vicious circle.
www.paulbrass.com Some of his work is available on this website of his.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
The "Govt sympathizers'" response to allegations of human rights violations is to attack the identity of the persons and say that you are no better. So when the US or the UK Governments talk about the deteriorating human rights standards in the country the Govt sympathizers' response is: "You are no better. You have no right to talk. Look at what you are doing in Iraq". The objective is the elevation sought to be morally superior to these countries. This is their way of responding to HR allegations. To me this type of argument is very much the same as "if you can do it, we also can do it". Tacitly they are agreeing that we are no better than the UK or the US as with regards to these countries handling of the human rights situation in Iraq. They would even say “Your war on terror has some unfortunate consequences. Our war on terror also has some unfortunate consequences”. But I do agree that countries like the US and the UK have long lost their credibility to talk about other countries’ human rights records.
The response that the GOSL sympathizers provide to the civil society groups is by linking them to the LTTE. (Again, as I see it, seeking to elevate them to this ‘morally superior level’). The new terminology 'Sinhala Kottiya' is devastating. “All those criticizing the GOSL of human rights violations are against the war and hence supporters of the LTTE” – This is the Governments and their sympathizers’ very simple logic.
Similarly, “You don’t criticize the LTTE enough and hence you must be an LTTE sympathizer”. Without answering appropriately allegations of HR violations that are being attributed to them, the GOSL and its sympathizers by engaging in this mud slinging, inadvertently are saying that the Govt is no better than the LTTE when it comes to human rights violations. These arguments appear to me that these people are willing to give ‘parity of status’ to the LTTE with the GOSL when it comes to human rights violations!!
The “Go to Killinochchi” and “Tell Killinochchi” argument does have some substance in it. It poses the difficult question of how civil society groups can independently work within an environment where non state armed actors prevail.
That we have the best combination in the form of the President, Gottabayah and the Army commander is a comment that infuriates me. Best combination for whom? For those who have been 'liberated' from Vaharai? For those who have been displaced? For those who have been abducted and disappeared? Bandula dismisses the problem of abductions as a negligible problem that shouldn’t attract our attention given the exuberant patriotism that is manifested in this trio. How low will the state media bend to please people whom they consider their 'bosses'? (Bandula Jayasekera is by the way the Editor of Daily News)
Friday, February 09, 2007
I do not here any more about the SLMM in the news. About their opinion on whether a particular incident has violated the MoU or not and the rest! The best that Norway can do i suppose at this moment, to save its reputation (if there's anything left of it), is to pull out from the 'Peace' process and to pull out the SLMM as well. Any logical person/entity would do that. Without doing this the SLMM has forced itself to listen to the hate speech from the Government and its peace secretariat that it is not properly doing its job, that it is not working in the North East and so on. I'm sure the LTTE is also blowing hot and cold on the SLMM.
The East is being 'cleared' and people are being 'liberated' from the hands of terrorists using a former terrorist - 'Karuna', now a 'democrat' of reputation who has joined 'mainstream democracy' with a political office even in the capital city. There was no pre-condition that he had to 'lay down arms' before joining mainstream democracy. The Government has taken it as practice to defend Karuna where and when possible as was seen in its response to the Rock report and the Human Rights Watch report. If my memory serves me right i remember seeing a posting of the Karuna group's press release denying involvement in child conscription on the Government peace secretariat website sometime recently.
The concern about politics in the East has traditionally been with regard to accommodating Muslim and Sinhala Minorities living in this province, especially the fear of excessive Tamil domination in the case of a merged North and East province. But now nobody seems to be bothered about this. The talk is about giving Karuna control in the East to neutralise Prabah in the North. The fate of the Muslims and Sinhalese is not much talked about. (Afterall the Muslim MPs are busy organising hartals in Amparai complaining that they have not been offered a ministerial post*). Such are the dictates of so called 'military reality' on the politics of this country. I have painfully in the recent past read articles written by Dayan Jayatilleke suggesting that its time that Karuna be fully be used to confront Prabah and that the conflict in the country be shifted to be one between the Eastren Tamils and the Northern Tamils so as to take way the focus on the conflict between the Sinhala and Tamil communities.
Let the 'liberation' and 'clearing' continue!!
*(My referrence is to MP Nijamudheen. Following the hartal H.E. has promised him a ministerial portfolio as well. One more Nation Building Ministry it can be. That will make it 5!)