|November is for tears
November is for tears. Nadarajah
Raviraj, TNA parliamentarian and one of the most vocal
spokespersons for ‘the Tamil cause’ was shot and killed from
point blank range in Colombo. November is not only for the
tears of his wife, children, friends and other associates,
Raviraj spoke his mind and whether or not his ‘mind’ was made
for him by the LTTE or to what extent that claim can or cannot
be justified. What matters is that Raviraj chose to use the
democratic space at his disposal to articulate what he perceived
to be the grievances and aspirations of the community he
identified with and therefore sought to represent. He spoke his
mind in all three languages and those who are conversant in
Sinhala, Tamil and English would probably testify to the fact
that double (or treble) speech was not his style. He may have
been hesitant to condemn LTTE atrocities, but that is more an
indication of how weak Tamil political society is, given
Prabhakaran’s considerable track record of expending death to
those who veer even slightly from the LTTE’s line than a product
of systematic brainwashing.
The bottom line is that Raviraj embraced democracy. He chose to
inhabit the democratic mainstream, perhaps because he saw some
worth in democratic engagement. Raviraj was not killed in
battle. He was unarmed. He was gunned down. Assassinated. The
Tamil community may or may not pause to figure out who did it
and why. They can conclude: the democratic way yields nothing.
It bolsters the justification for armed engagement even if such
a choice also yields nothing but death, destruction,
displacement and the other inevitable miseries of war.
The President has called for a full investigation and requested
that no stone be left unturned to bring the murderers to book.
This is not enough. Raviraj’s death was not an isolated
incident. There has been a spate of unexplained abductions,
disappearances and killings over the past few months. What this
means is that the law and order situation has deteriorated
dramatically. What this means is that there has been a gradual
erosion of the structures and institutions that makes a state a
state and therefore differentiated from a terrorist organisation.
Of course, there is still a long way to go before the structured
violence of the LTTE cannot be distinguished from those that are
part of the state apparatus. However, unless effectively
arrested there is a real danger that informal arrangements
outside the legal process obliterate and replace those that are
Raviraj’s killing has been roundly condemned. Other killings,
whether or not politically motivated, have been condemned
although not deemed suitable material for front-page news
stories. Condemnation, the expression of shock and horror and
pledges to arrest the killers, however, does nothing to sort out
the legal and political flaws that have significantly reduced
the citizen’s sense of personal security.
International experts are called to investigate such killings.
Commissions are appointed. However, little or nothing is done to
rectify the structural flaws that encourage these flagrant
violations of the law and all norms of human decency. The
public remains un-insulated from corrupt politicians who have a
propensity to engage in violence. Law enforcement is not immune
from political interference.
Investigations will, hopefully, reveal the identities and
motives of Raviraj’s assassins. We can only say, ‘not enough’
for that is little consolation to the ordinary citizen whose
vulnerability remains intact.
This November, and particularly this week, is for tears also
because of the tragedy that took place in Vakarai, when
multi-barrel rockets and artillery shells fired by the Sri
Lankan Army hit Kathiraveli Vigneswara Vidyalam that housed
internally displaced people, killing scores of civilians.
The security forces claim that the LTTE had fired artillery from
the vicinity of the school not too long before retaliatory fire
caused the tragedy. It is well known that the LTTE cares little
about civilians and that fact has been amply demonstrated by
their numerous provocations that sooner or later result in
renewed hostilities whose first and most unhappy victims are
these very same civilians.
All this offers no comfort for the loved ones of those who died
or were wounded. None of this qualifies for ‘legitimate
excuse’. When an unarmed civilian is killed, regardless of the
context, it is cause for national mourning. The LTTE, being a
terrorist organisation, does not have to abide by conventions
that refer to humanity. Governments, on the other hand, are
bound by the dictates of a social contract.
No one in his right mind can demand or expect the government to
confine troops to barracks. Not in a context where the LTTE
frequently executes attacks on civilian and military targets.
‘Kebithigollewa’ is still fresh in people’s minds. ‘Mavilaru’
too; especially in the minds of the families of the hundred plus
Muslims slaughtered in cold blood as they were made to flee
their ‘traditional homelands’. And yet, if the government
asserts that the target is the LTTE and not the Tamils, then
such ‘accidents’ should never happen. The President has
admitted error here and this is a good sign for the worst thing
would be to shove it under the carpet called ‘collateral’.
Again we say, ‘not enough’. There has to be professionalism
when dealing with the LTTE, whether militarily or in
We cannot afford November’s tears to fall again in December,
January, February and so on.
November is made for tears. Between 1987 and 1990 approximately
60,000 people were killed. The vast majority of them were
unarmed. The vast majority of them were Sinhala Buddhists and
that fact needs to be mentioned for failure to do so would allow
the world to assume ‘Tamils’ or ‘minorities’. Such has been the
societal silence on that particular blood-letting. No films, no
teledramas, few comments, and this is not an accident.
November is for tears because this is when the JVP commemorates
their dead. November does not belong to the JVP, though. If the
then government given its access to legitimate guns as per those
residing in structures of the state, the principal owner of the
structures of violence, is the first accused in those crimes
against humanity, the then JVP leadership is the obvious second
accused. The country lost its brightest and most idealistic
There may have been better ways to sort out the problem, but it
didn’t happen. Today the JVP has embraced democracy. People
ask, ‘if the JVP, then why can’t we believe that the LTTE will
not?’ The answer is simple: the JVP was decimated, militarily
crippled, nay, obliterated.
There are tears, nevertheless. There will be tears too for the
60,000 plus who have perished thanks to the conflict in the
North and East. There maybe other ways to sort out the problem
outside of military engagement. It requires people to have faith
in democracy, to see that peace is not possible without
democracy and therefore conflict-resolution should aim for
democracy and be democratic and democratising in process.
May there be different Novembers, Novembers made of tears
perhaps but also of smiles!