With the take-over of all the northern and other Tamil-majority areas of Sri Lanka and the killing of Prabhakaran by the Rajapaksa government, one gory chapter in the history of the island has come to an ignoble end. It has a clear message to all with aspirations similar to those of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE): Violence does not pay. Simultaneously, another and even more important message has become self-evident: it is that the world needs a new Mahatma Gandhi. Increasingly, as one watches events all over the world, and even right here in India, with the Naxalites playing havoc in some 140 districts, the impression gaining ground is that of a frustrated people taking to arms in a big way, in the desperate hope that they will win the day. They won’t.
Violence will be met by counter-violence. Consider what the LTTE had done since first it was established in 1972. It butchered Alfred Duraiappah, the Mayor of Jaffna on July 27, 1975. After the armed struggle gathered momentum following the communal holocaust in July 1983, killings continued exceeding all brutality. It began with the killing of Prabhakaran’s own close comrades like Sabaratnam, Padmanabha, Amritalingam and Yogeshwaran. Other killings followed suit, notably that of President Premadasa and then Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi.
The world was later to hear of the ethnic cleansing in the Jaffna peninsula when the Tamil speaking Muslims were forced to flee their homes. Not satisfied with these killings, the LTTE went after a host of Ministers, Buddhist monks, Hindu, Catholic and Muslim priests, chiefs of the Armed Forces and the Police and, worse of all, literally thousands of innocent villagers, unwilling to toe Prabhakaran’s line. According to a dossier put out by the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry, the LTTE targeted not only the Sinhalese, but also the lives of respected Tamil intellectuals, politicians, artists and civilians like Lakshman Kadirgamar, Neelan Thiruchelvam and Sam Thambimuttu.
Among others who fell victims to Prabhakaran included a former Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratna and Ministers Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulamudali. In all, some 60,000 people got killed in 32 years of insurgency. The Tigers themselves lost 17,780 between 1982 and 2002. According to figures compiled by Robert Paped, an American political scientist, 315 politically-motivated suicide attacks were perpetrated by the insurgent groups worldwide between 1980 and 2003. And just to point out that the killings was not one way, it is necessary to remind one and all that during the Black July carnage of 1983, between 2000 and 3000 Tamils were slaughtered, including 53 young Tamil political detainees lynched in Colombo’s main prison. About 1,50,000 were made homeless.
President Jayavardane failed to condemn the violence or express sympathy for the survivors. He merely blamed the Tamils for bringing it on themselves. The Buddhists of Sri Lanka have blood on their hands. They are a disgrace to Buddhism. The Tamils had been provoked. One need not go into the history of Tamil-Sri Lanka relations down the centuries to allot blame to one or other party. The fact remains that violence was the leitmotif of the Buddhist-Tamil war. It will be argued that given the Buddhist efforts to impose political hegemony over the Tamils to the point of denying thousands of them Sri Lankan citizenship, the latter had no other option left but to take recourse to violence.
What, one wonders, would Mahatma Gandhi have done if he were alive and well, and in a position to advice Sri Lankan Tamils. We learn that Velupillai Prabhakaran’s father, a district land officer, besides being a pious Hindu householder, was a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. If a follower of Mahatma Gandhi could have a son like Prabhakaran whose icons, we learn, were Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh, then what have we come to? Gandhiji had much bigger job on hand, liberating such a vast country as India from imperialist Britain. He stood by non-violence; non-violence was to him something more than a creed, it was the essence of his entire political life. And he practiced it assiduously whether it was at Champaran or Kheda. For him there could be no difference between ends and means; howsoever desirable the ends, the means had to be right. And in Satyagraha he found the right means. He defined satyagraha thus: “Satyagraha is gentle, it never wounds. Satyagraha must not be the result of anger or malice. It is never fussy, it is never impatient and it is never vociferous. It is the direct opposite of compulsion. It is peaceful and complete substitute for violence”.
The Tamils of Sri Lanka one hopes, will give Gandhiji’s satyagraha a chance, should it ever become necessary. Considering that after thirty two years of mindless violence, killing of literally thousands of people and displacement of thousands more and expending over a billion dollars in purchase of ships and weaponry, the insurgents have been brought down to their knees, it is about time they learnt a lesson. Good ends needs good means and satyagraha is the best option. That lesson needs to be learnt by our own Naxalites too, who feel that violence is the only means for getting economic justice.
The tragedy is that presently there is not a single leader—political or otherwise—who can provide moral, let alone spiritual, leadership to the country. One does not have to indulge in stone throwing, setting public (and even private) transport on fire, destroying public property, as has become accepted practice in city after city for some decades now, to make a point. Gandhi made his point that India must be free of foreign dominance very effectively, following his return to India in 1915 and till his last days. He did not approve either of Bhagat Singh nor of Subhas Chandra Bose. Unlike Prabhakaran he won. More, he received the undying respect of mankind. There is a moral here, if only anyone is willing to listen. Gandhiji led the Indian National Congress for some thirty years and at the end of those years he had achieved his sole aim through non-violence. Today, more than ever, we need a Gandhi to serve as a beacon light not only to Tamils in Sri Lanka but to people everywhere who feel aggrieved. And that includes India.