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(DV) Sinnathurai: Competing Geopolitical Monologues in Sri Lanka







Competing Geopolitical Monologues in Sri Lanka
by Fr. Chandi Sinnathurai
November 4, 2005

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The inhumane suppression of the Tamil speaking people within Sri Lanka has continued for far too long. What is meant by the term “Tamil-speaking people” is that, in addition to indigenous “Ceylon Tamils” and the “Hill Country Tamils” of Indian origin [1], we include here the Ceylon Moors and the Burghers.

British Colonialists (British arrived in 1796) brought the Hill Country Tamils into Sri Lanka as indentured labor in the beginning of 19th Century. The Ceylon Moors trace their origins to the Arab traders and some were converts to Islam from the indigenous population. The Burghers are mixed-race descendents of colonialists: Portuguese and Dutch.  Particularly for the Burghers in the North East territories, their first language is Tamil -- similar to the Moors.

The idea of the UN recognized right to self-determination for Tamils therefore encompasses emancipation for all these populations. The Tamil armed resistance Movement (The Tamil Tigers, LTTE) has grown to be the sole representative of “Tamil speaking people”. This idea presents the Sinhala chauvinist Sri Lankan Government (SLG) with the primary intellectual threat ever faced by the Mahavamsa-inspired supremacy ideology. The idea of self-government for the Tamils in political, economic, social and cultural spheres poses even a further threat against the politico-Buddhist police state!

In this context, the SLG is seeking the support of the international community with the seductive persuasion that the Tamil Tigers are a terrorist organization. They are convinced that in the post-9/11 West such an argument must push the right buttons. The Tamils, on the other hand, are appealing to the international community for the endorsement of their struggle for human rights and their cry for freedom. The Tamils seem to recognize the importance of being a player on the global stage basing its trust on ethical and moral leanings. It is, however, blatantly evident that the Western Nations with their trade agendas are primarily interested in their geo-political corporate maneuverings.  Hence, the cutthroat game lies in the inherent greed for trade and economic gain.  While taking control of the lion’s share of the pie, the West would want to ensure that nothing undermines the subtle enforcing of imperialistic mechanisms in the South Asian region.

Geo-strategic reality moves the National Tamil Question on to another plane. The West-initiated peace process and the impotent Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) will need to be looked at in the light of global politics and corporate economics.

The open secret is that the U.S intends to tighten its grip on cheap oil processing plants in the Arab world -- especially in Iraq.  Currently this program is unleashed under the respectable pretext of ushering in democracy. No subtle observation is required to work that out; it requires furthering America’s military presence in that part of the world perhaps by establishing a symbiotic relationship with the emerging regional power (i.e., India). [2] If this plan were to go ahead with a “wink and a nod”, then the strategic proximity of Trincomalee presents itself as a tempting proposition. 

The Trincomalee natural harbor lies within the Tamil homeland. To put it in another way, the dispossessed Tamils are sitting on a potential gold mine.  This brings a mountain of challenges into the equation. For the West -- that is to say, EU and the U.S. notwithstanding India -- political autonomy for the Tamils is a slightly prickly subject. On the one hand, it is doubtful that the de facto Tamil state would cooperate with the U.S in establishing a naval base in Trincomalee. It is common knowledge that the Tamil Tigers would be less agreeable to an arrangement whereby Trincomalee -- the Thamil Eelam’s Capitol Hill -- becomes something like “an Asian equivalent of a German base” for the U.S.  On the other hand, if the autonomy of the Tamils was to be internationally recognized in the North East territories (Thamil Eelam) then the U.S could be best placed to have meaningful negotiations with the Tamils regarding its strategic interests.

Prior to the independence of Ceylon from the British in 1949, just preceding the formal transfer of power, Don Stephen Senanayake, a loyal collaborator, signed a “defense agreement” with Britain which allowed the British military to retain control, even after independence, over their naval base at Trincomalee on the east coast. This remained the British naval HQ until 1957.

A Hindustan Times article on Sri Lanka’s Strategic Importance [3] cites three primary reasons for Trincomalee to be of geo-political interest: 1) strategic location, 2) ideally situated to be a major communication centre, 3) one of the finest harbors in the world.

So in fact, it is the settling of geo-political accounts first that would eventually lend it self to a negotiated settlement in Sri Lanka. 

The non-violent battle for the recovery of lost Tamil sovereignty began in the early 1950’s. The guiding principles for a separate Thamil Eelam were expounded by Dr. Thiyagarasa in a self-published booklet in 1957.  Then, in 1961, Mr. C Sundaralingam wrote a book on the same subject and formed a political party (Suya Artchi Kalagam) on that platform of secession. The TULF (Tamil United Liberation Front) put forward the secessionist principle through the Vaddukoddai Resolution. In 1977, it put that principle to a democratic test and won a landslide victory. This victory brought to parliament, for the first time in its history, a Tamil opposition leader!

The argument of the SLG that there is no major Tamil support for the cause for Eelam is like looking for hen-teeth.  However the Democratic processes were systematically undermined by the Sinhala State through institutionalized racism, brute force and State terror.  The Tamils were left with no other option but to defend them.

The repetitious Tamil holocaust has not caught the attention of the world media. The Tamils, since the 1950s, have been humiliatingly subjugated by the Sinhala state. The consequence of that state terror was the Tamil Tigers. 

“When a government takes up arms against its unarmed subjects” said Mahathma Gandhi, “then it has forfeited its right to govern.” [4]

The SLG has completely lost its moral compass. Owing to its duplicitous dealings in the past years, it has resoundingly undermined its own credibility among the Tamil populace.

The endorsement of democratic self-government for the Tamil-speaking people will have to be carefully chartered between the Devil and the deep blue sea: The first being the Sinhala state’s claim to be the “sole sons of the soil” by divine right vying for the control of the Tamil nation. And the latter being the Western geo-political, strategic and corporate interests vying for influence and political posture (in terms of international sea lanes) in Asia in order to base itself at a stone’s throw from the Arabian Gulf.

From where in these heated competing monologues where do the Tamils come in?

The self-government of the Tamils is currently a reality within the nascent Tamil State. 

At a recent Tamil Resurgence Conference the Tamil Tigers have called on the Tamil Bards in order for the National Anthem to be written in “immaculate Tamil”.  The Tamil net, an alternative news web reported: “The call for a National anthem comes in the wake of the Tamil Eelam National Flag and National Flower already been established.” [5]

The threat of suppressing Tamil aspirations through militaristic means has proved to be a very weak option indeed.

The onus might be placed at the door of the UN to urge the US and the western corporate giants to deal justly with the aspirations of the Tamil people -- not solely with economic interest in mind. Having said that, we must be mindful of the fact that: “Of the hundred largest economies today, 51 are corporations and only 49 are nation states.” Rabbi Sacks writes: “Several factors make it difficult to integrate them into a coherent policy arena. They exist to make a profit for shareholders. That is their raison d’etre and logic of decision making.” [6]

There can be no dialogue when competing monologues are at work and hardly any one is listening. The Sinhala state cannot continue to play the role of an artful dodger. The post-tsunami aid distribution and redevelopment revealed to the world that the Tamils do not even have an equitable share in the economic affairs of the island. The two-state solution has proved yet again, to be the only way in which the Tamil speaking people can live in honorable peace. If justice is truth in action; and if there is to be reconciliation to heal wounds then the truth has to be confronted. The international community has to offer that moral vision and leadership!

The perennial issue remains simple: As long as the Tamils remain aggrieved no Dialogue is going to be a walk in the park.

Reverend Sinnathurai, currently reading for his Doctorate, is a Christian priest trained in the West. He traveled extensively in the northeastern Tamil territories post-tsunami for humanitarian work and did a series of interviews with the de facto Tamil state senior officials (Tiger Top Guns). These articles, entitled “Eelam Encounters,” can be read at  

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Other Articles by Fr. Chandi Sinnathurai

* The Weapons of Misperceptions


1) Adele Balasingham, The Will to Freedom: An Inside View of Tamil Resistance, Second Edition: 2003.  

2) Adrian Wijemanne, War And Peace in Post-Colonial Ceylon:1948–1991, Sangam Books: 1996. 

3) Anton Balasingham, War And Peace -- Armed Struggle and Peace Efforts of Liberation Tigers, Fairmax Publishing: 2004.  

4) Barnabas Alexander, A Cross-Angle Analysis of the Ceylon Tamil National Question, MA Thesis: 2002. 

5) Brian Senewiratne, The Abuse Of Democracy in Sri Lanka, London: 2001. 

6) Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, Revised Edition, Continuum: 2003. 


* Mohan Ram, Sri Lanka: The Fractured Island, Penguin Books: 1989. 

* M. Thirunavukkarasu, Samastiya Thaninada: A Political History [In Tamil] Federalism or Separate State. Arivamuthu, Kilinochi, Thamil Eelam: 2005. 

* Sumantra Bose, States, Nations, Sovereignty -- Sri Lanka, India And the Tamil Eelam Movement, Sage Publications: 1994.  

* Satchi Ponnambalam, Sri Lanka: The National Question and the Tamil Liberation Struggle, Zed Books: 1983. 

* Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics and Violence in Sri Lanka. The University of Chicago Press: 1992. 

* S. Sivanayagam, Sri Lanka: Witness to History (1930–2004) Sivayogam: 2005. 

* Vern Neufeld Redekop, From Violence to Blessing, Novalis: 2005. 

* V. Navaratnam, The Fall And Rise Of The Tamil Nation, The Tamilian Library: 1995.


* The following map shows the strategic positioning of Trincomalee:
home.wxs. nl/~pdavis/ Map_Glasgow_2.htm