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Editorial


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, however.
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 constitutionally provided. 
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 negotiations.
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 youth.  
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!