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  Interviews  


 

 
“LTTE never enjoyed support of Tamil people” – Chandrahasan
The ruthless terrorism unleashed by the LTTE not only caused destruction to the populace and property of this country, but also systematically eliminated the Tamil politicians who promoted ethnic harmony between all communities rather than acting as Tiger proxies. The country saw people such as Josheph Pararajasingham, Nadaraja Raviraj and T. Maheshwaran being mercilessly gunned down, some in their holy places of worship. In this context, The Nation contacted, eminent Sri Lankan lawyer S.C. Chandrahasan, who now resides in Tamil Nadu, to learn his views on Tamil politics and the role the LTTE played in the minds of the people. Chandrahasan is the son of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, the founder of the Federal Party and one of the foremost promoters of non-violent struggle to win political freedom
Tigers eliminated talented leaders
“Killing persons articulating voices opposed to the LTTE was one of the greatest wrongs the LTTE did. It not only eliminated many experienced and talented leaders, it also prevented many up and coming people from contributing to the cause of the Tamil-speaking people of the island. This is one of the reasons which prevented the LTTE from becoming a popular movement”

Following are excerpts:

By Stanley Samarasinghe

Q: What is your opinion about the Sri Lankan Government’s humanitarian operation against the LTTE to combat their terrorism?
A:
In my view, the peace process should have been put on the front burner and the military process in the backburner. The more appealing and compelling the peace process was, the support to the LTTE would have diminished. Since the peace process was put on hold and the military process was put on the front burner, it created a humanitarian crisis in the areas where the battle was going on. While we totally disagree with the methods adopted by the LTTE, more should have been done by the government to prevent or mitigate the suffering. The efforts made by the security forces in rescuing and moving tens of thousands of Tamils caught up in the war zone to areas of safety should be appreciated. Unfortunately, the decision to constrain the rescued into fenced camps resulted in the people being moved from LTTE captivity to Govt.of Sri Lanka (GOSL) captivity. As the rescued came out of LTTE captivity, they greatly appreciated the role of the Army in bringing them out. But as time went on, they felt they were constrained in the GOSL-controlled camps and the goodwill gained began to evaporate. The sooner the people in the IDP camps are allowed to move to places of safety of their own choice, the better it is for the effort at winning peace. Though delayed, news of the release of lactating mothers was well received.

Q: Do you recognise the LTTE as a liberation movement of Sri Lankan Tamil people?
A:
Firstly, a liberation movement must be a people’s movement. Secondly, in the island’s context, only non-violent democratic movements can win the rights of the people. Therefore, I did not and I will not recognise the LTTE as a liberation movement.

Q: During the heydays of the LTTE they claimed that they are the only organisation representing the Sri Lankan Tamils. Do you agree?
A:
It never enjoyed the popular support of the Tamil people. Further, at any time, it was not the only organisation representing the Tamils. During their heydays they did not allow others to function. The majority of Tamils preferred democracy and non-violence, but were caught in the process of militarisation on both sides. Hence, I do not accept it.

Q: Do you agree that all efforts to find a peaceful solution to the outstanding issues in North and East were repudiated by the LTTE, and the government was compelled to take measures to combat the terrorism unleashed by the LTTE on the people of Sri Lanka irrespective of their nationality?
A:
The LTTE should be faulted for failing to take the 2002 peace process forward from the Oslo Declaration of December 2002 and other opportunities it had, to work towards a negotiated settlement. But at the same time, we should bear in mind that the response from the GOSL side in meeting the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils of the island has fallen short of the expectations of the Tamil-speaking people. At the same time, there has been repudiation from the other side too.

Q: The Indo-Lanka Accord was signed in 1987 by the leaders of the two countries to solve the Sri Lanka Tamil problem. As a well-experienced lawyer and public activist with commitment for Tamil people’s cause, could you explain the reason for its failure?
A:
The concept of linguistic states successfully addressed the aspirations of different linguistic groups within the Union of India, influenced the Indo-Lanka Accord. But, since the Sri Lankan Constitution was rigidly unitary, constitutional changes had to be made to accommodate meaningful devolution of powers. This had to be done through a two-thirds majority in Parliament followed by a referendum in order to make it work. Unfortunately, the then Jayewardene Government, which had a five-sixth majority in Parliament, did not take up the challenge of putting it before the people at a referendum which would have made it workable. Having failed to bring about the necessary constitutional change, they made the great mistake of pressurising the Indian Peace Keeping Force to disarm the LTTE on one side and clandestinely providing weapons and money to the LTTE to fight the IPKF.

Q: The LTTE and its leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran killed thousands of Tamil men and women, though deeply committed to the cause of Tamil people, did not espouse the LTTE ideology. They also treated the public under their command with contempt, heaping taxes on them and instituting unreasonable laws on them. In view of such treatment could you say the Tamil people in Sri Lanka support the LTTE to achieve Eelam?
A:
Killing persons articulating voices opposed to the LTTE was one of the greatest wrongs the LTTE did. It not only eliminated many experienced and talented leaders, it also prevented many up and coming people from contributing to the cause of the Tamil-speaking people of the island. This is one of the reasons which prevented the LTTE from becoming a popular movement. Some people went along. Some supported them. Some people feared them. The struggle for Tamil rights should be seen separately.

Q: The TULF leaders were committed to seek solutions through peaceful means. With the emergence of the LTTE and their resorting to violence, it damaged the peaceful image of the Tamil community and destroyed the Tamil cause. Can you comment?
A:
During the period of late Mr. Chelvanayakam, there was unwavering commitment to non-violence. It was more than that. It was a conviction that Tamils should win their rights by impressing the Sinhala people through democratic non-violent means. I earnestly hope that this conviction will predominate Tamil opinion in the future.

Q: Your father, late S.J.V. Chelvanayakam always resorted to democratic path. Had the TULF been allowed to engage in politics, could you say the Tamil community would have secured their political objectives by now?
A:
I do agree that the democratic path would have delivered substantial gains to the Tamils in a peaceful way. Unfortunately, the use of police force and the security forces by the Sri Lankan Governments and other forms of communal violence against the Tamils resulted in the TULF leadership not being able to carry forward its commitment to continue in the democratic peaceful way. This created a political vacuum which was unfortunately filled by the militants. It is equally the responsibility of the people of all communities in the island to see that this does not happen again. It must not be forgotten that apart from the Tamils who have suffered in a very big way, members of the Sinhala and the Muslim communities have also suffered considerably.

Q: Now the TULF is free to engage in politics without any hindrance. Do you expect to return to Sri Lanka and get involved in politics to realise a negotiated settlement?
A:
I have a lifetime commitment to be involved in finding a meaningful negotiated settlement to the problems of the Tamil-speaking people. As to whether it necessitates engaging in party politics or Parliamentary politics will depend on needs and compulsions.

Q: The Sinhala-Tamils conflict is essentially a dispute over sharing of power. In that atmosphere, do you believe that politicians of both sides, Sri Lanka and India, must create mutual trust among each other before reaching any political solutions?
A:
We greatly appreciate the question highlighting the most important factor, that is, the creating of “mutual trust” between the two nations as the challenge to all people in the country, irrespective of race or religion. As a refugee living in India, I have witnessed many occasions where members of the Sinhala community, who had come to India and who had visited refugee camps spent emotional moments with the refugees, wishing and praying for their early return to the country.

Organisation for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR) is an organisation of Tamil refugees. When a few Singhalese came to India as refugees in 1988 and 1989, Tamil refugees considered it a privilege to assist them. If Sinhala fishermen are stranded in some part of India, Tamil refugees go to their assistance. We cherish these moments of happiness.

May I add that I dream of the day when Tamils will stand up and speak for the rights of Sinhalese and Sinhalese stand up and speak for the rights of the Tamils.

Q: In 1957 and 1965 your father, as the Federal Party leader, entered into two agreements to solve the Tamil problem. Unfortunately, neither of them was implemented. What was the reason for the non-implementation?
A:
This was because it was then found advantageous to play majoritarianism and gain politically by opposing the grant of rights to the Tamils. There were extreme views among the Tamils, but the Tamil leadership was able to justify the settlement by going to the people. But on the Sinhala side, the challenge of convincing the people was not adequately met.

Q: Your father, the late Chelvanayakam, never resorted to violence; he always insisted the Tamil people to confine their struggle to democratic path. What is your comment on this view?
A:
Mahatma Gandhi was the great advocate of non-violence and my father uncompromisingly followed the path of non-violence. It is powerful because it causes no physical harm to the opponent. It sensitises the nobler instincts of human beings and seeks a response in a way in which the person giving or compromising does so with the fullness of his heart. During the period of the Tamil non-violent struggles, no Sinhalese was harmed. Even if there was disagreement, there was always respect that was generated by this process.

Q: The LTTE promoted separation and violence. Do you believe separation as a solution to the problem?
A:
It is a time to look forward and I wish to do so. From 1948 to 1976, the Tamil-speaking people not only wished to achieve their rights within a united country, they also disavowed separation. During the latter-50s and thereafter, there were some Tamil leaders who advocated for a separate Tamil Eelam. The late Chelvanayakam and the Federal Party that was led by him, strongly argued against separation and the people accepted their arguments and voted for the Federal Party overwhelmingly, rejecting the call for a separate Tamil Eelam.
It was after losing all hopes of living together, that the Tamils in 1976 changed their view. The Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 went a long way of restoring the hope that Sinhalese and Tamils should live together in one country. The peace process of 1995 and 2002 clearly articulated the call of the Sinhala people and the Tamil people that effort should be made to try and live together. In that context, I believe that every effort should be made to live together in one country. I consider it the responsibility of the Sinhala people to ensure justice and peace to the Tamils.

Q: According to you, what is the most appropriate solution to the problem?
A:
The Tamil-speaking people, being a minority, wish to achieve their aspirations in the Northern and Eastern parts of the island where they live in large numbers. The power of governance should be shared between the Centre and regions ensuring that the Tamils have their own federal or regional area in which their legitimate aspirations can be met.

While the political settlement is being negotiated, all Tamils who are living in the IDP camps are in no way restrained from going to safe places of their own choice and rehabilitated in their own habitats.
During the two JVP insurrections in the South and rehabilitated in their own habitats of the country, those who engaged in the insurrection and later chose to come into the mainstream were given amnesty and provided opportunities to get into the mainstream of democratic politics. All Tamils who have now been segregated as having been cadres/supporters of the LTTE should be offered an amnesty on their choosing to give up militancy and reverting to democratic activity.

S.C. Chandrahasan was born on May 12, 1942 at Inuvil in the Jaffna Peninsula. His parents were S.J.V. Chelvanayakam and Mrs. Chelvanayakam of Tellippalai in Jaffna. Chandrahasan received his school education at Royal College, Colombo and studied law at the Law College, Colombo. It is significant to note that the Tamil medium classes were started at Royal College for Tamil students on the insistence of Chandrahasan, who wanted to study in the medium of his mother tongue, Tamil. His father, Chelvanayakam was totally immersed in the politics of the non-violent struggle of the Tamils to realise their aspirations, hence, Chandrahasan had to shoulder the professional legal responsibilities of his father, who was a Queen’s Counsel, in addition to his professional responsibilities as a leading lawyer in Colombo.

Chandrahasan also served as the legal secretary of the Tamil United Liberation Front till 1983. In the late 1970s, he directed his legal skills and energies to combat the cases of serious human rights violations by the Sri Lankan Government facilitated by draconian legislations passed by the Jayewardene government in 1978.

His involvement in galvanising those opposed to human rights violations such as arbitrary arrests and detention of Tamil youth was the precursor to the formation of ProTEG in India, which continued to highlight and combat human rights violations in Sri Lanka through advocacy work undertaken by him in India. He also was instrumental in forming the OfERR which is the humanitarian organisation providing much needed services to the hapless refugees in India. Chandrahasan’s work has also been appreciated by the countless numbers of refugees who own their very existence to the work and response of Chandrahasan.