By Sandhya Jain
As the LTTE completes a quarter century of armed conflict with the Sri Lankan state, Tamil intellectuals in the island nation are agonising over its pronounced western bias and poor returns to the Hindu community. As Indians largely perceive the LTTE as a Sri Lankan Tamil Hindu organisation, even though former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a Christian suicide bomber, it will be instructive to see the reality from Colombo.
It is true that Sri Lanka'sTamil community got a raw deal from its Buddhist elite after Independence, and this led to the rise of several armed Tamil groups. But through a policy of smartly executed assassinations of key leaders in just a few years, the LTTE ensured that it alone remained on the scene by 1987, when it confronted India under a disastrous engagement that New Delhi undertook at the instance of the United States.
The Indian Army was bogged down in one of the most treacherous engagements of its distinguished career, while the LTTE survived through backroom diplomacy with the Premadasa regime. It later confronted both the Premadasa and Chandrika governments, and won victories at Mullaitivu, Killinochi and Elephant Pass, which augmented its reputation as a fighting force. Today, the LTTE controls almost half the North-East. Yet, its success appears to have cost the Tamil Hindu community, which is beginning to concede that its religious traditions, demography, education and even livelihood, have been seriously undermined by the LTTE.
Hindus comprise almost 85 per cent of Lanka'sTamil population, and their traditions and culture are being eroded by the LTTE and its profoundly pro-western bias. Few Lankan Hindus are even now willing to speak of the LTTE'sChristian character, though this is now increasingly visible, with the ironical result that Hindus in government-controlled territory are for the first time better off than those living under LTTE domination. Tamil writers note that Hindu temples are being reconstructed and having a vibrant service, with all festivals celebrated with great fervour in areas like Jaffna, Vavuniya and Batticaloa. But this is not true of the LTTE-controlled districts.
On the contrary, the LTTE is taking Hindu dharma out of the public arena. The important Tamil festival of Navaratri is accorded great respect in the government-held territory. Last year, the Buddhist Speaker of Parliament, Mr. Lokubandara, led the celebrations, which were attended by Sinhalese, Tamils and even Muslim MPs of various political parties. The JVP participated with enthusiasm, but the pro-LTTE TNA kept away from this major Hindu event in the nation'sParliament. LTTE'sundeniable European tilt is becoming a matter of comment in Tamil circles. It is pointed out that the LTTE refused to negotiate with the Lankan government in Japan or Thailand; Prabhakaran boycotted the Tokyo conference. He is also anti-India. Instead, he preferred to talk only in Norway or Switzerland, countries with little understanding of Lanka. Political analysts say the LTTE ideology sidelines the indigenous religious traditions of the Lankan people as a whole. The organisation is anti-Buddhist, anti-Muslim, anti-Indian and anti-Asian, and has no Hindu sympathies either. It crushed the Batticaloa-based cadre that resulted in Karuna'srevolt in 2004. The LTTE has in fact been described as ?a neo-colonial fifth column? in the Midweek Review Island Newspaper, because it seeks to denude Tamil nationalism of its Hindu roots and is too close to Christian missionaries. This is also why the Tamil movement has become internationally isolated. Tamils have suffered in other ways as well. They once led the country in education, but now LTTE'spoliticisation of universities has led to the prolonged closure of the Jaffna and Eastern Universities. At the same time, the Muslim-dominated South-Eastern University is developing fast and producing good students and high quality research. Worse, when paramilitary groups allegedly killed the pro-LTTE principal of Kopay Hindu College, the organisation hit back by murdering the distinguished principal of Jaffna Central College, who opposed child conscription. He was killed when going to join Navaratri festivities organised by students. LTTE supremo Prabhakaran designated the pro-LTTE principal as Mamanithar, but the majority of Jaffna'sinhabitants preferred to mourn for the principal of Jaffna Central College. Tamil Hindus have been the worst sufferer of the LTTE'shuman rights record. According to government sources, the LTTE murdered 562 people since the ceasefire of 2002, which include 388 Tamil and Muslim civilians. There were 117 attempted murders and 620 reports of kidnapping. It murdered several Hindu priests in recent years, thus violating the spirit of the ceasefire. Finally, the LTTE prevented 500,000 Tamils from exercising their democratic franchise in 2005; it forcibly evicted 350,000 Tamils from their homes in the Jaffna peninsula in 1995; and it systematically murdered independent-minded Tamil Hindu intellectuals. Democracy cannot thrive under the shadow of the sword. This bodes ill for the forthcoming elections in the North-East.