Sri Lankan fight against freedom

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Feb 10 02:47:18 UTC 2009

Sri Lankan fight against freedom
Rajeev Ravisankar
Issue date: 2/9/09 Section: Opinion

The ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka has largely remained under the radar
in the U.S., but recent developments have caught attention from many
media outlets. Sri Lankan government officials and policy analysts
declared that the long-running civil war in the country is nearing its

The standard description of the conflict goes something like this: The
minority Tamil population, constituting 18 percent of Sri Lanka's
total population, assert that they have endured systematic
discrimination at the hands of the Sri Lankan government controlled by
the majority Sinhalese ethnic group. Tamils challenged this
discrimination in the political arena, through nonviolent protests and
with demands for greater regional autonomy, but Tamil youth began to
feel increasingly frustrated and alienated.

Out of this alienation emerged the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE), a militant organization with the goal of establishing a
separate Tamil homeland in the north and east. The civil war began in
1983 following an LTTE attack on Sri Lankan military personnel and the
subsequent pogrom against the Tamil population that left 2,000 people

However, the present conflict can actually be traced back to the
British colonial era. Back then sections of the Tamil minority
population benefited from language policies initiated by the British
and as a result held a high number of civil service positions. Rather
than a dual-language solution to replace English and a gradual
approach to redress the disproportionate representation in the public
sector, the Sinhalese dominant government in newly independent Sri
Lanka adopted exclusionary language and citizenship policies that
disenfranchised and antagonized Tamils.

I'm not recounting this history to place blame, but rather to point
out the difficulties faced by Sri Lanka and many other post-colonial
societies in addressing the language policy issue. The inability to
resolve this issue in Sri Lanka contributed significantly to the
continuing civil war that has killed and displaced tens of thousands
of civilians.

The conventional war in Sri Lanka may be over shortly, but at what
cost? The short answer: human rights, civilian lives and
infrastructure, freedom of speech and press freedom. The Sri Lankan
military has been accused of shelling a hospital in the supposed "safe
zone" for civilians. In southern Sri Lanka, a newspaper editor and
government critic Lasantha Wickrematunge was assassinated by
government thugs last month. Less than a week later another journalist
and his wife were beaten.

Effectively, violence has displaced democratic institutions and
discourse, and has become the language through which politics are
negotiated. In such a situation, it is difficult see the prospects for
a political resolution to the conflict. After 61 years of
independence, nearly half of which have been spent at war with itself,
the Sri Lankan government has yet to learn that imposing a solution
through extreme force will cause sustainable peace to be yet another
casualty of war.

Rajeev Ravisankar is a graduate student in public policy. He can be
reached at ravisankar.2 at

N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who
disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal. (H. Schiffman, Moderator)

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list