What would you feel if the pet dog you were rearing in your home for companionship as well as for security was brutally killed and decapitated, its body left lying on the street and its head placed on your gate?
What would you feel if your pet dog was killed, its body bundled up and thrown into the well from which you draw your drinking water every day?
If these brutalities take place in an environment in which an army consisting of members of the ‘other’ ethnicity is in control of your neighbourhoods, what would you feel then?
This is one aspect of the incredible politics of vengeance and repression that is taking place in Jaffna today. This is the nature of the politics that has been introduced by the post-war government of Sri Lanka in Jaffna, the central point of the political, social and economic life of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka.
What wafts across this environment? Certainly not the soft breezes of reconciliation and peace but rather, the stench of the politics of fear. The politics fought over the bodies of dogs acquires a new meaning in the context in which local government elections are due to be held in the Jaffna peninsula at the end of this month.
The resounding rhetoric of how the end of the war has given the Tamil people the opportunity to enjoy freedom and liberation fall flat in the face of the politics of fear that we see rampant throughout Jaffna and in the Vanni today. These developments are driving the Tamil community further away from the government of Sri Lanka day by day. The sections of Tamil civil society who espoused moderate and balanced political views are extremely frustrated b y this situation. The opinions that circulate internationally saying that the Tamil people of Sri Lanka cannot expect justice from the current regime are reaffirmed by this ‘war of dogs’. This situation only strengthen the calls that already confront Sri Lanka in the international arena regarding accountability for war crimes and human rights violations.
Why is the Rajapakse regime allowing this repression to continue at a moment when it is confronting an extremely disadvantageous situation nationally and internationally? This is a matter we should subject to investigation, because it is only the answer to this question that can provide us with solutions for the situation.
Let us first examine the recent political climate in which the ‘war of dogs’ is taking place.
In February, the bodies of three dogs were found lying on the ashes on the site where the mother of LTTE leader Prabhakaran had been cremated. This meant that family members were not able to gather her ashes together according to custom. Most would have thought that this inhuman act was an act of revenge directed at Prabhakaran and at the LTTE.
It is not an isolated incident. It is a part of a general strategy of suppressing the human rights of the Tamil people. This bit of news did not become the subject of any rational discussion in the south; instead, it was buried by the web of self-censorship that has become standard practice of the southern media. Now the politics of dog-killing is growing.
In June, the body of a dog was flung into the well in the home of Professor S.K. Sittampalam, who is a prominent supporter of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). It is probable that the immediate ‘provocation’ for this act was that he had made a comment to the media that the Tamil would not forget the battle for Mullaivaikkal.
Around the same time, human faeces were flung at the church of Fr. C.G. Jeyakumar, former head of the Human Development Centre of the Catholic Church in Jaffna. He would have been targeted perhaps because he often receives delegations of international visitors who visit Jaffna and describes the prevailing situation to them.
Last week, the pet dog of Mr. C. Sivakumar, who is a TNA candidate for the forthcoming local government elections, was killed and its head fixed on to his gate. Another TNA candidate had human faeces flung at his house.
Prior to this, garbage was thrown at the house of former MP M.K. Sivajilingam, whois presently a TNA candidate for Velveiturai in the forthcoming local government elections. The TNA candidate in Kodikamam had funeral wreaths pillaged from a nearby cemetery placed in front of his house. Human ashes were flung into his compound. Fuel oil was flung at the house of the woman candidate for Sandillipay. Many candidates have had the words ‘Death’ written in front of their houses.
The JVP has publicly declared that the army in Kilinochchi is directly interfering in their election campaign. They say that army tears down JVP posters and replaces them with posters of the government campaign. These are the actions of a government and of an Army Commander who have sent the former Army Commander and Presidential candidate to prison on the basis that he engaged in politics.
The killing of dogs is a part of an overall campaign of political intimidation. Although there are over 50,000 military personnel and thousands of Police personnel in Jaffna, they have not been able to apprehend anyone in connection with the dog killings. The attack by military personnel on the TNA meeting in Alaveddy is the best example of this environment.
The TNA says that over 30 soldiers in uniform participated in this attack, which was led by an army Major. There is by now enough eye witness evidence as to this incident. President Rajapakse promised that there would be an inquiry into this incident, and that the perpetrators would be punished. The TNA says they can identify the attackers.
But now the government says that no army personnel were involved in this attack, and that it must have been carried out by people wearing uniforms that are similar to army uniforms. It is hard to say whether the idea of 30 unidentifiable men, wearing army-like uniforms and carrying out an attack of this nature on the TNA in Jaffna is a joke, or an obscenity. This is not all. On the BBC’s Hard Talk programme, MP Rajiva Wijesinghe demonstrated the insensitivity of the rulers in Colombo to the injustices faced by the Tamil minority when he declared that the TNA welcomed this attack because it benefited them ! This is the response of the Sinhala state to an attack on five Tamil Members of Parliament. What more need we say about reconciliation and liberation?
In these circumstances, many moderate Tamils who never supported the LTTE in any way are totally frustrated by the experiences of military rule in Jaffna and in the Vanni. Mutukrishna Sarvananthan, the head of the Point Pedro Institute recently said: I do not foresee demilitarisation to any significant extent until the Rajapakshas are in power. Militarisation is indispensable for the perpetuation of the Rajapaksha dynasty.
This statement contains one response to the question I had asked earlier on this column: Why is the government continuing with repressive rule instead of a democratic one, why is it maintain military control especially in areas where Tamil people live without considering the disadvantageous position it is in nationally and internationally. This is that the Rajapakse regime is not really interested in criticisms and opposition that is being articulated abroad and within the country; they are only interested in maintaining their hold on power. To this end they are keeping the Tamil people suppressed under military rule, and the Sinhala people mesmerized by triumphalism.
The key challenge faced by democratic forces in Sri Lanka in the context of this reality is to reaffirm the democratic rights of the Tamil people by removing military rule and installing a civilian administration in those areas, while in the south, we need to debunk triumphalism by exposing the realities of the war.
- Sunanda Deshapriya