Rasalingam decimates Jehan Perera’s sterile PC position on the role of the military in the north today

Sebastian Rasalingam of Toronto, courtesy of the Island, 10 November 2011, where a different title prevailed: “Army ‘Kadaigals’ in the North – Bane or Boon?” **

I read Jehan Perera’s take on “Economic and political costs of over extending military role”. Perera is an NGO spokesman who used to demand that the Army be confined to the barracks, even during the peak of Tiger mayhem. So, his views on the military in the North should surprise none.

‘Policy alternative to the war’: Consider the view of Tamils who do not own land near Colombo (or Toronto!). They have been working on Peria Dorei’s land or at his business for a pittance since colonial times. They were conscripted to fight the battles orchestrated by the Tigers and funded from London or Toronto. How could they care about  “Arasu”, “language” or “University Entrance”, when their children were denied decent schools or a fair-wage job.  The poor Sinhalese youth were also hit by the Eelam wars. The youth  of the social class of Jehan Perera were not involved in the war. They remained sceptical of the military option. “Keep the army in the barracks, let us have talks, and graciously  give Prabha the few hectares of dry zone that he is clamouring for”; this was the “policy alternative” to war proclaimed by Jehan-Perera types.  This suited the mercantile and military interests of the west. The lot of the Tamils under a Tiger Megalomaniac was irrelevant to the “polished” civil society.  They wanted to punish the rioting Sinhala-‘yokels’ who usurped the power of the Colombo class since 1956. Prabhakaran was surely the ideal cat’s paw.

Ending war and mending North: The determined attack against the Tigers worked. Some 300,000 IDPs were forcibly taken to Nandikadal by the retreating Tigers. They escaped when the army broke the Tiger-built earth bunds. That was in May 2009. The IDPs had to be fed, medically treated, and separated from terrorists. The TNA and their “civil society friends” flashed pictures of barbed wire fences of welfare centres claiming that they were Nazi concentration camps; they wanted the IDPs released immediately. However, by all honest accounts the government did a great and humane job, unaided by the Tamil Diaspora or the TNA which claimed that those were torture camps. Tiger money was no doubt used to buy out some Tigers who arrived in the West on board smuggler-ships.

 Singamuththu shop

The LTTE employed some tactics such as destroying the Kilinochchi water tower and roofs of houses so that the people were left with no alternative but to go with the retreating Tigers. If the IDPs had returned to such war-torn villages with no infra-structure or economic activity, the tragedy would have been colossal. Even in New Orleans, the US, many victims of Hurricane Katrina have not yet got houses or employment to date. Lanka’s North has done far better!  The immediate, able-bodied engine of reconstruction is the military. This was like in Japan after WW-II. Even five years after WW-II, goods from Japan were labelled ‘made in occupied Japan’. The factories were initially run by the US army, and handed over to the Japanese business under strict rules. The Marshal Plan in Germany was administered jointly by the allied-forces and US banks initially. This practice was followed in South Korea.

Economic factor: The presence of the army provides a client base for goods and services supplied by the working Tamils. The Colombo Tamils or the Diaspora cannot be the engine of growth in those areas. What is amazing is that in Jaffna today, even lawyers’ offices remain open till 11 pm. The Tamils go about in the night without fear. Street bazaars are a hive of activity well beyond normal hours. The presence of the Sinhalese adds the non-traditional influence needed to break the power of the old Peria Dorei caste. Jehan Perera does not like it!

If the army personnel are discharged, they will fall into the sorry state of war veterans in the US or Canada. The veterans of the West are ‘army surplus’ are vulnerable to trauma, violence and alcoholism. In Sri Lanka, the army has jobs in the North running ‘kadaigal’ or even beauty salons. In the South, they dredge canals or clear slums. In effect, soldiers are weaned from their military habits, given a new vocation and reintegrated into society. A socially myopic UN-expert may say “this is financially inefficient”. However, within a holistic social picture, we see that the force of circumstances has produced the correct solution to a horrendous post-war problem.

** This article is not only incisive in approach and grounded in pragmatism; but is also crisp in its vocabulary and serves as an example of English prose that I would like to emulate. Web Editor


Filed under IDP camps, life stories, LTTE, NGOs, politIcal discourse, reconciliation, rehabilitation, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, tolerance, welfare & philanthophy, world events & processes

3 responses to “Rasalingam decimates Jehan Perera’s sterile PC position on the role of the military in the north today

  1. padraigcolman

    “This article is not only incisive in approach and grounded in pragmatism; but is also crisp in its vocabulary and serves as an example of English prose that i would like to emulate”.

    As a fully-paid up pedant I object to the use of the word “decimate”. Was Perera reduced by one-tenth of his body mass?

    Now that I’ve got that out of my system, Michael, let me say thank you for alerting me to this thought-provoking article.

  2. cass

    Interesting word ‘decimate’. What a coincidence that you should use that word in your heading. Because I have a piece of communication that uses the same word in the same context to articulate an ideological position which is diametrically opposed to Rasalingam’s position and what’s the bet Michael, that you will be too politically correct to state honestly and bracingly which position you agree with.

    The communication is from Rajan Hoole and when you compare the two; Rasalingam and Hoole, one is like a fresh, invigorating spring breeze, while the other is the oppressive, stale and rather close air of a small room, which has been shuttered for 20 years. If you can correctly and bravely assign the two metaphors to the two communications by these two men, you will be a man my son!

    Here is the communication from http://www.just-now.eu/wp-content/Jaffna%20University%20Annex%20II%20-%20Special_Report_34%20Full.pdf

    “Instead of showing generosity, the Government made maximum mileage of the misery it imposed on Tamil civilians to solicit funds from reluctant donors to pay for the extralegal incarceration of IDPs and for other projects with ulterior aims, such as resettlement or development schemes that could change the ethnic demographics of the north and east to further weaken the Tamil community’s claim on those areas.

    The fear that the Government will not allow the IDPs to resettle in all the areas they inhabited before the war, and will instead introduce new Sinhalese settlements and their familiar consequences would remain a real fear for the Tamils. The Weli Oya Project of 1984 begun by forcibly displacing and massacring Tamils (Chapter 20 of the Arrogance of Power) continues to haunt them. Meanwhile the Government appears totally indifferent to the squalor of the IDPs. The effect of its actions amounts to the decimation of a people by crippling them from birth through deprivation, routine harassment and dirt.”

  3. chandre.dharmawardana

    Interestingly, Mr. Harper, Prime Minster of Canada, has also opted to use the Canadian Army (returning from Afghanistan) for civilian work. Harper calls it “from helmets to hard hats”.

    Leaving army personnel to idle in barracks is very bad for the returned soldiers, and totally unproductive for the nation.
    Jehan Perera has probably not examined the good experience of armies all over the world, but simply rushed to the typewriter.

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