Saturday, May 02, 2009

'Aid'ing and Abetting

There are whole load of spontaneous citizen initiatives that have propped up to respond to the IDP needs in the camps in Vavuniya.

Now i must at the outset say that such initiatives are good and probably needed but all i am saying is lets not forget the larger issues that need to be addressed and the politics of aid. It is acknowledged that those involved might be doing it without being aware of the politics and/or not caring is there is politics behind it. It is also not the intention of this blogger to ask for a halt in the aid effort. I would be a demon if i do suggest that. My intention is purely to raise some questions so that our response can be better.

One of our prominent bloggers who is involved heavily in the aid effort thinks that killing 50,000 people to get rid of the LTTE is ok. (See earlier post on this blog). Now thats not an indictment on all those involved. But i cant help thinking that this is a further indication that humanitarian concerns cant be divorced from politics and if the politics of these people are not good then there is no point.

Why do i say there is no point? The value of citizen initiatives is that they are symbolic. They provide for an opportunity for people to people connection and confidence building. Their usefulness as actually providing relief to people is secondary. Why, because the big humanitarian agencies are doing their best and the citizen initaitives will never be able to match their capacity. Of course these initiatives can help bridge the gaps and loop holes. But that also i am doubtful because these initaitives do not have the access to information etc to do this. Now, this people to people connection is that happening? Are people meeting these IDPs and are they able to talk to them? I dont think so.

The worse part of all of this is for example the JHU types who are going on padhayatras to collect rations. Add the state media initaitives to this. Their intention is to support the claim made by the government that 'these are our people. we know our responsibility to protect. these are our bretheren'. Now thats bull shit. I wont be able to believe anyone who says that the govt cares for the tamil people. Of course there might be individual army personnel who show care for the IDPs (the inherent huamneness) but thats no reflection of what the govt's attitude is. They are bombing the NFZs, hospitals etc. So these JHU and state media types are out there collecting rations as part of a govt image building exercise. I say dont support them.

Now to the question of what can we do at this moment - my appeal to all those genuine aid collectors and people concenred for IDPs. The problem in the camps seems administration and distribution of relief. Suresh Premachandran MP (TNA) in an interview with BBC Tamil Service says that the GA Trinco (an army fellow) and the military establishment are the ones involved in running the camps. The Tamil GAs of Killi and Mullaitivu are sidelined. 20 people have died since coming to the camps. Two children died of stampede during a dry ration distribution. Now these are the concerns that people worried about IDPs should raise. Sunday Times reports that Walter Kalin the UN Special Representative for Human Rights for the IDPs has given the Govt certian conditions that they need to adhere to for UN support for the camps run by the Govt. Back in October 2008 the UNHCR issued an aide memoire stipulating the basic minimums that need to be satisfied for their engagement in running the camps. Most important of these is freedom of movement. These camps are internment camps. We should urge that these will be lifted. Issues relating to space (because the govt doesnt want to open more camps), visit by relatives etc all of these are issues that we need to raise.

One further question that everyone has been meek on is as to whether the money that the Govt is getting specifically for spending for IDPs being properly used for the purpose? There is very little information available regarding this.

Unfortunately for this sort of activism there is very little interest. And the govt is happy that we collect the anchor packets. They will be worried if we talk about the other humanitarian issues.

By not raising these issues arent we guilty of abetting with the Govt? One of my friends involved in the effort said if we riase these issues then we wont be given an opportunity to help out in the aid effort. This prominent blogger has been talking about 'cooperating'with the govt and the military establishment to get this done. But i ask the question then whats the point? I dont think we can keep these issues for later.

A small note on our experiences during the Tsunami. Even during the Tsunami we saw this out pouring of humaneness: Helping out irrespective of who has been affected. A lot of commentators wrote that this humaneness should be used as the base that opens the window of opportunity for conflict resolution. That was not to be. PTOMs was crash landed by our CJ and the JVP. The Ache example didn't work here. The social capital that one was able to generate during the Tsunami could not be transformed into productive political capital.The people of this country elected MR. And we keep voting for him at all elections. We have allowed the war on terror to be a war on the minorities. So what is the use of this bubble humaneness?

Oh then once somebody told me dont be such a cynic. When we help atleast we help one child get a cup of milk or some buscuits. Isnt that a good enough reason. Of course it is (though you might be duplicating). Lets not get satisfied with that. How do we make sure that that child will never ever have to be in a position where he or she will have to rely on our aid?

I do not want to be mistaken for having a generalised suspicion on the genuiness of people involved in the aid effort. I am only asking for introspection and care for detail.

PS: I stand corrected by a friend who is very involved in monitoring IDP related humanitarian issues and HR stuff in general that the relevance of the citizens initiative in the immediate phase of the relief (especially after the arrival of more thank a lakh people on April 20) has been crucial and life saving (in the light of aid agencies and the govt not being able to cope with the immediacy of the situation. They were under prepared). I reiterate however my call on the need for wider activism.

Killing for the promise of democracy in the aftermath

Sanjana has posted here on Groundviews a poll asking whether it will be acceptable to kill the civilians if along with it you can get rid of the LTTE. He was triggered by a comment made by one of Sri Lanka's most prominent bloggers who in an email conversation with him had said:

“I would accept 50,000 dead to finish the LTTE. That’s what it comes down to. And I would, to end that war.”

I had noted this blogger slipping to nationalist ego (now worse this is extremism and i wont mind calling it racism as well). I said on my twitter deck on the 1st of May: "one of our prominent bloggers formerly very critical of the govt has now got caught up with the nationalist ego. very sad".

The question that Sanjana poses is as follows:

Would killing 50,000 civilians to finish off the LTTE bring peace?

and the voting options:

Yes, if this is what it takes.
Maybe, if there are guarantees of a post-war political process on power-sharing.

One commenter on Groundviews was disgusted:

"Much as admire what you have accomplished with Groundviews this poll does it a disservice; I am very disappointed. It is just stoking extremism based on heresay, surely not what you intend to foster with Groundviews. How can the numbers or the sources you quote be verified or the implication that it is the aim of the government?"

Sanjana had a good response:

"This post intends to interrogate extremism. The numbers in the quote are really peripheral to the argument, which exists today, that to finish off the LTTE, collateral damage is not just unavoidable, it is even a prerequisite. What do you feel about that?

"If you cared to read them, and I suspect you’ve not, *both* stories referenced above are unverified, yet the immediate reaction of both you and another before you is to believe the one against the LTTE and question, nay, vehemently deny the one against the Government. I find that an telling reaction."

I responded:

"Most of the commenting on this post so far wishes to be in denial of the extremism/racism that is there in this country - largely probably because they are uncomfortable with this rise in racist/extremist instincts in our society and/or because they think this cant be . I know who Sanjana is talking about and i was one of the first to note this prominent blogger slip away to nationalist ego. This prominent blogger was a very good critic of the Government and politics in general and it is very shocking for me to find people like this blogger slip away. The change in the mindset of this blogger is indicative of two things that have been part of the moderate southern polity’s psyche (sorry for this random group formulation) especially in the Mahinda Rajapaksha era: 1) That what the govt is doing is acceptable or tolerable given that the other side (the LTTE) is a larger evil 2) (1) is acceptable because of the very huge democratic potential that will be opened after the defeat of the greater evil the LTTE. These are the reasons, i suspect, for our prominent blogger to be happy to see 50,000 people die if it will wipe off the LTTE as well.

I contest both and i comment on some of these questions in a comment/s i wrote to Rohni Hensman’s post on the same here at

Niran Anketell, Ahilan Kadirgamar, Nirmala Rajasingham and Ragavan’s comments to Rohini’s post are valuable reading.

I am with Sanjana on posing this question. Ya it shocks but its the kind of question that our society has stooped low to even consider".