Mid-week Note

Its two lessons from Sri Lanka for two parties, not one

Cropped Red Pen LogoThe Sri Lankan elections to the last Provincial Council (PC) held on 10th Saturday this month, which is the Southern PC, considered the bastion of Sinhala Buddhist psyche and thus the strongest and most popular base of the Rajapaksa regime, turned otherwise.

After a long lapse, we South Asians for Democracy, feel its time to lay focus on this elections and the emerging military option in South Asia, in a Mid-week note. So, here we go.

It was rather a stupid coincidence that the Tamil Nadu government MPs decided to poke their fingers into the SL IDP issue, while the Southern PC election campaign was nearing its last leg. Their egoistic statements about the SL government handling the Tamil IDP issue with much success, could not add anything of worth to the Southern voter in favour of the Rajapaksa regime, who had other issues at hand, 04 months and 03 weeks after the war was declared over.

With President Rajapaksa himself touring his home district Hambantota during the last two days, a district accepted as their family fiefdom with his parental politics too originating there and coming down 03 generations for now, the Rajapaksa regime could not muster anything close to their publicly proclaimed 80% popular vote, getting stuck at 66%.

All State resources, all State power, the political muscle of the mega cabinet, a heavily politicised police force, a continued war hype and heavy blanket security could not lift the provincial vote to even 70% in favour of the Rajapaksa regime, after the war against the Tamil Tigers was convincingly won.

The message was clear. This regime has nothing more to offer, after the war was won. The most decisive factor, the ethnic war, which decided SL politics over the past 03 decades is now out of the agenda and is being replaced by economic demands. Economic redress the society feels they are entitled to, now that the war is over. That perhaps is part of the “peace dividend” the people understand as due to them.

But the Rajapaksa regime is unable to provide adequate answers for that. They therefore can not maintain the popular vote base any more by barking loud about the war and defeating “terrorism”. The end of the war though hyped by the regime as a historic win, does not provide the people with answers to their problems. Its turning into a failed story now in SL within a fast declining popularity.

Yet in the region, and even beyond as far as the Philippines, the Sri Lankan lesson in waging war as a solution for armed conflicts, is considered valid by even governments within democratic structures. All governments were warned by a Sri Lankan academic Prof Amal Jayawardne addressing a global gathering of peace initiative activists in Philippines, who clearly said, the SL lesson should not be tried out by any country, as it does not provide answers to the core conflict.

FILES-INDIA-BANGLADESH-POLITICSUnfortunately for the South Asians, where even human rights activists are reluctant to see eye to eye on most issues and often take stands against the State as the “only” violator of human rights of the people and as the “only” perpetrator of crimes, governments have been able to push through their agenda of militarising the society as an answer to “terrorism” with a substantial social support.

This is evident in how the Indian militarising process is taking shape. The Congress government had the audacity to go public with a giant media advertising campaign against Maoist rebels, labelling them as “cold blooded murderers”. Nevertheless the mainstream media is yet to take up the issue in a positive perspective for the public to become participants in the discussion. This has given the leverage to the Congress government to hype their argument for elimination of Maoist rebels “at any cost” to ensure “stability”. So is it in all other regional societies from Myanmar to Afghanistan, where “core ailments” have not been brought to the table for discussion while the “symptoms” are being militarily addressed for short term stability.

This can not be turned around, unless the HR organisations and other civil liberties groups take up the position that neither the State nor the armed rebels have a right to coerce and intimidate the people they claim to “represent” and “liberate” for their own armed agendas.

One lesson the Sri Lankan operation offers is that. In SL, most peace lobbyists and civil society activists, refrained from condemning the Tamil Tigers for all their crimes and atrocities committed against the people, as fall out of an armed rebellion against a repressive State. This divided the society in to 02 plain segments and into a dichotomy, as those opposing the Tigers supporting the State war, and those opposing State repression by default supporting the Tamil Tigers.

Its time now to understand that there has to be a THIRD PLATFORM for the people to say “NO” to all who violate the right of the people to decide on issues that effect them as communities and cultures. That right can not be leased out to any repressive machinery, whether State or anti-State.

Its time now therefore to raise a new “people’s front” in Indian human rights activism, to challenge both State “terrorism” and “anti State” terrorism.

For the SA people, that could be the only lesson to learn from Sri Lanka, where the war is now being left aside as an answer by the gradually awakening SL people.

SAS – Editorial – 14 October, 2009

(Previous post below)

The run away Reddy and “The Hindu

Cropped Red Pen LogoMost who read this would have also read our “Mid-week Note” last Wednesday – 29 July, 2009 (posted below this). It was a serious and a responsible criticism of “The Hindu” editorial policy regarding both pre and post war Sri Lanka.

For this critic – which we thought was necessary when a much read and a highly acclaimed news paper of “The Hindu” order, goes berserk with its editorial approach disregarding media ethics and morals – we used three most recent news reports on the visit of US Assistant Secretary, Eric Schwartz to Sri Lanka, that was up for reading at the time of writing the “Mid-week Note” and one of them was filed by “The Hindu” Colombo based Correspondent Mr. B. Muralidhar Reddy, who goes as “Special Correspondent, The Hindu”. Mr. Reddy was the correspondent for “The Hindu” during the earlier period when the war was being waged in its most brutal form and continues to date as “The Hindu” Special Correspondent based in Colombo.

Mr. Reddy walks into this ‘posting’ as he chose to respond to that previous “Med-week Note” with an e-mail numbered (01) below. If one takes his words and the nuances given, we believe, he would have gone to town with his response, if we did not respond, the way we did. He had decided on his own that we are afraid of the “truth”, what ever meaning he gives the word “truth”, found fault with us for not having provisions for comment and thus posed the question to us, “Are you afraid the truth would come out?” Implying that we don’t have provisions for comment, because we don’t want the “truth” to come out. What he also meant was that, had he had the opportunity to comment, he could have told the “truth” and exposed us.

As a policy and as our objective, we are driven to provoke social dialogue to the maximum possible limits of cyber capability and thus requested Mr. Reddy to send his response (e-mail numbered 02) promising that would also get posted for public reading, though he says in his accusative tone “I got your reply 24 hours later”. That in fact was just one day after we posted our “Mid-week Note” and was in no way an obstacle to send in his comments with his “truth”.

From this person who accused us we were 24 hours late in responding to his e-mail, and also accused us of being afraid of the “truth”, we had no response for 48 hours. Therefore on Saturday 01st August, we decided to remind him (e-mail numbered 03), that we are still waiting for his response to post it for public reading.

Self CensoredThat continued insistence from our side, that he sends in his comments was probably not expected by him. He responded (e-mail numbered 04) without much delay by saying, “I am out at the moment. I would reply and not run away.” Since then, not 24 hours, but 24×4 hours had lapsed, but this Reddy is yet to respond with his “truth”. We have come to the next week when we have to post our next “Mid-week Note” too.

We know he has not run away. He is still busy working for “The Hindu” in covering up the Rajapaksa regime.

But what we are concerned about is the high handed, haughty manner with which this news paper and its Special Correspondent treat media and journalism in relation to the SL conflict and feel they could get away with it too and worse, it runs into their attitudes as well.

Mr. Reddy hence did not expect his “journalism” and his “The Hindu” news paper would ever be questioned and challenged. When challenged, he perhaps thought he could bully the challenger by his naïve statements like “Are you afraid the truth would come out?” and thus was very prompt in e-mailing us the same afternoon; the “Mid-week Note” was posted. But, when given the opportunity to come out with his “truth”, he goes missing, though his mail sent 96 hours before says, “I would reply and not run away.

Where is the truth now Mr. Reddy ? The truth we now know is that you are stupidly ignorant of media ethics and blind to the realities of Sri Lankan life under this regime, sunk, immersed and lost in the glorified comforts of State patronage.

So be it Mr. Reddy, we leave you with your ecstatic sojourn into “Stooge reporting” which as you prove, is more dreadful than the “embedded journalism” we’ve known from the Kuwaiti war. This leaves “The Hindu” editorial equally and more guilty of what they have been saying about the Sri Lankan conflict, encouraging and guiding “Stooge reporting” for their own selfish and petty ego.

Now for the benefit of our Readers we reproduce below, all the e-mail correspondences we had with this Mr. Muralidhar Reddy, the very Special Correspondent from “The Hindu”, who was a privilege to have correspondences with and was an inspiration in learning how irresponsible and unmindful their type of journalism is, despite the fate of Tamil people in Sri Lanka.

(01)

From Murali Reddy bmuralidharreddy@gmail.com

To southasiaspeaks@gmail.com

Date 29 July 2009 12:47

Subject  Request for response to `mid-week note’ on The Hindu reportage of US envoy visit and conflict coverage

mailed-by gmail.com

Dear Editor,

I wonder why there is no provision for response in your so-called `mid-week note’. Are you afraid the truth would come out?

With regards

B. Muralidhar Reddy
Special Correspondent, The Hindu
5 1/1, Queen’s Terrace, Colombo-3, Sri Lanka
Tel. 00-94-11-2582494 (land line) 00-94-714712399

(02)

From South Asia Democrats <southasiaspeaks@gmail.com>

To Murali Reddy bmuralidharreddy@gmail.com

Date 30 July 2009 14:27

Subject Re: Request for response to `mid-week note’ on The Hindu reportage of US envoy visit and conflict coverage

mailed-by gmail.com

Thank you sir,
for responding. We are never afraid of dialogue. Pls send in your comments. We will carry it too.
Thanks
Editorial

(03)

From South Asia Democrats <southasiaspeaks@gmail.com>

To Murali Reddy bmuralidharreddy@gmail.com

Date 1 August 2009 11:22

Subject Re: Request for response to `mid-week note’ on The Hindu reportage of US envoy visit and conflict coverage

mailed-by gmail.com

Dear Mr. Reddy,
we are waiting for your response to our latest “Mid week Note” to publish it as promised. We would certainly appreciate a dialogue, if you would respond to our critique of “The Hindu” reporting on the SL issue.
Thanks
Editorial

(04)

From Murali Reddy bmuralidharreddy@gmail.com

To southasiaspeaks@gmail.com

Date 1 August 2009 13:35

Subject  Request for response to `mid-week note’ on The Hindu reportage of US envoy visit and conflict coverage

mailed-by gmail.com

Sir,

I got your reply 24 hours later. I am out at the moment. I would reply and not run away.

Regards


B. Muralidhar Reddy
Special Correspondent, The Hindu
5 1/1, Queen’s Terrace, Colombo-3, Sri Lanka
Tel. 00-94-11-2582494 (land line) 00-94-714712399

Posted – 05 August, 2009

(Previous week)

A lesson on “stooge reporting” and “The Hindu” denying information to “Readers”

Cropped Red Pen LogoIn India, during the SL war “The Hindu” news paper was very vocal against the LTTE and was providing plenty of coverage for the official version of the war that was waged. It was a period the emotions were charged and also divided and thus had less time for monitoring the role of media behaviour. Yet there was anxiety and concern in many circles over how the correspondent of “The Hindu” in Colombo filed news stories and of the editorial responsibility of the news paper. We now take this opportunity of an official visit by a US official to SL to project how “The Hindu” editorial consciously denies the public, the right for independent and unbiased information and adds to the misery of the displaced lives behind barbed wire.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for Refugees, Eric P. Schwartz, came to Sri Lanka on Sunday 26th July on an official visit and met with President Rajapaksa, Foreign Minister Bogollagama and some high government officials to discuss issues related to the IDP’s. He was later provided the opportunity to visit the IDP’s in one of the now famous “Menik farm” camps in Vavuniya, by the government of SL. He returned to Colombo from this visit and met with journalists to share what he saw and what he felt about the whole IDP situation.

Thereafter, there were 03 news reports filed on July 28 on the visit and on what Eric P. Schwartz had to tell the media since his return from the IDP camp and his meetings with the SL President and the SL Foreign Minister. The 03 news reports were captioned as follows and it is interesting to note the interpretation(s) in “The Hindu” report.

01. “US concerned over Sri Lankan camps” By Krishan Francis (AP)

02. “Sri Lanka Must Ensure Swift Return of Tamil Refugees, U.S. Says” By Paul Tighe (Bloomberg)

03. “U.S. hails efforts for war displaced” by B. Muralidhar Reddy (The Hindu)

censoredNo concerns. No conditions. Only plain praise as “The Hindu” has understood the English of this US official and that is what “The Hindu” wants its readers to believe as truth.

Reading through these 03 news reports, it is extremely clear how the AP correspondent and the Bloomberg correspondent has taken efforts to present more detailed information to the reader in relation to what Eric Schwartz the US official had to say within his diplomatic mandate, by using previously quoted views and news as well, for their news reports. Ethical and professional they seem in their job.

In presenting the news, the AP correspondent opens his report by saying, “The United States on Monday expressed concern over hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans displaced by war who are currently confined to military-run camps and pledged funds to help their resettlement.”

The Bloomberg correspondent’s opening sentence in his report reads as, “The U.S. said Sri Lanka must ensure the “prompt return” of about 280,000 Tamil refugees living in camps in the north since the defeat of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May ended a 26-year civil war.”

But for “The Hindu” editorial there had been no such concerns expressed about the lives of the IDP’s in “military-run camps”. Therefore, this is how ‘The Hindu’ correspondent opened his news report. “Welcoming Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s unequivocal commitment to the resettlement process of the nearly 3 lakh war displaced, visiting Assistant Secretary, Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration of the U.S. State Department Eric Schwartz, pledged U.S. support to the process.” He then adds further colour by saying Eric Schwartz is “the first high level official from the Obama Administration to visit Sri Lanka.”

According to the AP correspondent, the US Assistant Secretary had said the U.S was “deeply concerned about a range of issues where further progress is essential.” and had also said, “In particular the vast majority of displaced persons remain confined to camps”.

The Bloomberg correspondent confirms this US statement by saying, “The U.S. “remains deeply concerned” that the majority of displaced people are still in transit camps.”

And both news reports acknowledged that the US official was also concerned about international relief and aid organisations not having enough access to the IDP’s.

“The Hindu” has a totally different and contradictory news report for its readers, though from the same source. It says, “The Assistant Secretary describing his visit to the welfare villages in Vavuniya observed that the government had taken significant and substantial steps to improve the conditions and acknowledged the dedication of the officials who are involved in improving the lives of the displaced civilians.”

This “The Hindu” correspondent by now should know that the “Menik farm Zone 0 and Zone 01 camps” are maintained with displaced people who crossed over to government controlled areas much before the final phase of the brutal assault, are comparatively less affected and thus used for guided tours when dignitaries visit SL. Or, he should find out all those details for himself, if he is still not aware of them, before indulging in his profession as a journalist of worth and above stooging.

The concerns expressed by this US official Eric Schwartz was after seeing those in the Menik farm Zone 0 or 01 camp and that too had had a dampening impact on him. One should wonder what impact the other camps would have, if allowed access to.

But “The Hindu” editorial prefers not to hear or understand any of those “concerns” registered by Eric Schwartz. The editorial of “The Hindu” news paper can perhaps understand English, only if visiting officials speak good of their new found Sinhala King in Colombo.

“The Hindu” with this bias and unethical journalism is not only denying the “Reader” the right for information, but is also insulting the already insulted and displaced innocents in those camps. “The Hindu” with its “stooge reporting” is helping the SL government to hide the real situation of the IDP’s thus denying them the possibility of exposing the dire state of living in enclosed camps and having minimum human standards of living and speedy solutions.

Adding more salt to their already displaced and wounded souls, the news from the East used by “The Hindu”, in the same news report is only an official statement with no other source quoted and is specifically used as evidence to support the distorted IDP news they’ve fied. The unwritten argument is that all things related to the Tamil people are good and improving under the Rajapaksa government and so is the IDP situation.

“The Hindu” from the very beginning of the SL war, dropped all journalistic ethics and morals to back the Rajapaksa regime, perhaps in satisfying its own ego of sitting with the head of State for dinner and calling direct on the mobile phone. “The Hindu” seems to take pride in having such privileged relationships and wants to flaunt them publicly, killing the responsibility and duty of professional journalism in providing the “Reader” with right and unbiased information.

Most reports related to the SL war to date in “The Hindu” have always denied the right of the reader to unbiased information and with that the news paper has mortgaged its integrity as an independent journal.

Its time “The Hindu” editorial is told that publishing a news paper does not merely mean satisfying egos and petty interests of its Editor/Publisher, but is a social responsibility that has to be honoured. Its time “The Hindu” editorial is told that like all other valued professions, the profession of journalism is also bound by ethics and morals.

If none is telling them that, then the “Readers” must tell them that they have had enough of “stooge reporting”. Yet what is unfortunate is that the “Readers” who have many other sources of information apart from “The Hindu” that violate their rights and damages the lives of the IDP’s, have still not decided to leave “The Hindu” on the sellers rack and walk away.

29 July, 2009

[Previous comment]

Counter-posing lessons from the single armed conflict in Sri Lanka

Cropped Red Pen LogoAlthough the Delhi metro mishap overtook the “Rajnandgaon massacre” of 29 policemen with their District Superintendent of Police Binod Kumar Choubey, in national media coverage, the issue of Chhattisgarh and of Maoist guerrillas will not be overtaken by any other within Indian social turmoil in time to come.

“Rajnandgaon massacre” by itself was the worst in recent times, but is not an isolated one. This is Maoist warfare in its bid to liberate a “people” they think, they have a commitment for. This is a political phenomenon in perversion that takes unto itself the “right” to represent the people and leaves no right for the people to decide what they want. For the people, it’s only that these armed outfits create conflicts against the State with which they too have complaints and an opposition to. The basis of Maoist and armed fundamentalist existence accounts for such social psyche. A social psyche that reads and understands the State as undemocratic, as authoritarian and one that does not respect the social aspirations of them, the people.

It was that social conflict of the SL Tamil people with the State for over decades which politically justified the growth and existence of the LTTE, but did not include the people in the war against the State. That war was waged by specially recruited Tamil guerrillas who projected themselves as the only “liberation army” of the Tamil people. Such armed groups thereafter decide how the people should behave, not only towards “their” struggle, but also towards the State and the government in office. The people thus become some one’s “patriot” and the other one’s “traitor”. Little middle turf is left in these conflicts for the people to stand upon. This was very clearly explained and carried out by the Rajapaksa regime in Sri Lanka.

The people who have to be provided with political answers to their socio-political grievances thus become sandwiched between two contending armed forces. With each ambush carried out by the armed group(s), with each crackdown on armed groups by the State security forces, the conflict becomes savage and brutal. One has to over power the other for “victory” and the logic is more ruthless and more brutal the offensives, more power and advantage one gains. This savage logic of prolonged war, left over 100,000 civilians dead, a minimum of 40,000 armed LTTE cadres and State security soldiers dead, many thousands of youth permanently maimed, unaccounted numbers of children without parents and homes, young women in thousands as widows, whole districts de-populated and devastated by war and now, over 300,000 Tamil people uprooted, displaced and confined to life behind barbed wire in Sri Lanka.

Is there a lesson to learn from this SL conflict ? For all South Asian governments that have conflicts with armed groups comfortably labelled as “terrorists” and running across national borders, Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE is a successful experiment in eliminating “terrorism”, except for the elected government of Pakistan. For the Pakistani government of Asif Ali Zardari its only rhetoric that he needs to pick, as power lies not with him, but with the Pakistani military. Military support for the SL government’s war against the LTTE came not as a political decision of the Zardari government, but as a military decision that wanted Pakistani ISI links forged in the region.

For the Pakistani army, a country without Talebans, Al-qaeda, Lakshar-e-Toibas, Jaish-e-Mohammeds, Harakat-ul-Mujahideens and well over a dozen more prominent Islamic fundamentalist “terror” groups, they would merely end up as a ceremonial army. They would loose their decades long, very profitable hold to power in Pakistan, where drug trafficking and arms deals are put through porous borders in districts where legitimate governance is either wholly corrupt or almost absent.

For India that is geared to compete with China in the international market, the story is different, having sustained a democracy though procedural, for over 60 years. India thus would learn much from the SL experiment with war and they have also been experimenting on the same lines. With the Indian national media that has baskets full of other stories to run “24×7”, all “terror” attacks are anti national attacks to cry their nationalism hoarse. That makes it easy for the Indian State to tighten screws on civil liberty and freedom of social expression. The Indian State and its provincial governments would all have something to learn from this Rajapaksa war against terrorism in SL.

What would the people, the society that needs social and political stability with democracy, freedom and respect for human rights, learn ? That perhaps is the most unfortunate fallout in this war. That adequate lessons are not drawn out from this human tragedy that befell a respected, dignified Tamil society in Sri Lanka.

The most important lesson to learn is that, finding political answers to socio-political conflicts can not be outsourced to armed “liberation” groups. In their rigidly regimented structured life, trained to suspect every one outside the organisation, they would never understand what social democracy is. Their “liberation” would only mean a transfer of power to an organic ethno-religious armed organisation in captured land that would run a totalitarian regime. This holds true to Jammu and Kashmir, to Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, West Bengal and all other conflict ridden States and areas that have come under severe repression and legal restrictions over the past years.

Therefore the time has come for the people and their civil organisations to take on both the oppressive State that would want to militarise the society in the name of “national security” and the armed groups who talk of “liberation” and would resort to the most brutal anti-democratic means in fighting the State. Together they work towards undermining democracy in society, violating human rights and dismantling social structures, irrespective of who gains control of the land under conflict.

This clearly means the opinion making forums in society can not simply go on talking of repressive regimes only. They simply can not go on neglecting the violence and terror of armed organisations, taking government’s to task as legitimate rulers who are bound by national and international law. The PLGA Maoists in Assam and the CPI(M) in West Bengal, the PLP(Kangleipak) of Manipur, the JKLF in Jammu and Kashmir and all such armed organisations that operate in many dozens, commonly called “Islamic fundamentalists”, “Maoists” or “Naxals” needs to be told they are also aggravating and complicating the problems of the people and that they too don’t have the right to curb civil liberties of the people.

Time has thus come for all human rights and civil society forums to push through an agenda for democracy and respect of human rights and accordingly challenge both the State and armed groups for contributing to the single oppressive factor of militarising the society.

In a single line, its time to stand up for a democratic South Asian region against all forms of militarization that cross national borders, as State intelligence agents, professional military experts and as armed militants, never mind the label.

15 July, 2009


SRI LANKA: The law is a dangerous thing

Red PenA dialogue on investigations, written for the occasion of the commemoration of six months afr the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge, a Sri Lankan Journalist, on 8th January 2008 by Basil Fernando from the Asian Human Rights Commission.

This is a discussion among several imaginary characters. These imaginary characters do not represent any living persons.

The Characters

A Journalist who is conducting the interview, a senior police officer who had agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, a retired judge, a political scientist and a philosopher.

Lasantha VigilJournalist– This discussion is about the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge, six months ago. It is common ground that no inquiry has been done. The first question I wish to put to you is why no investigation has been done?

Senior Police Officer– May I start? Let me tell you two things. Firstly, no one has asked us not to investigate and secondly, I can tell you no one is investigating the matter. Do not ask me why. All that I can tell you is facts. That’s all.

The philosopher – There is a science called semiotics, meaning the science of reading signs. Maybe you are an expert on that.

Police officer – I do not know about any science. About 30 years of experience is I think sufficient to know what is going on.

Retired Judicial Officer – Allow me to play devil’s advocate. What good will come from any investigation? Let me explain, if some senior officer orders an investigation, he may be in trouble and then, the next person who comes in his place, will not want to continue to investigate. Suppose, an investigation is ordered, the subordinate may not obey and it may not be possible to make him obey. Or he may obey, but get himself killed. Even if he is not killed, witnesses who give evidence may be killed or forced not to give evidence. Even if that stage is passed, the Attorney General’s Department may not file charges. If they do the responsible ones may be changed. Same may happen at courts also. In short more problems will be caused by investigating than by non-investigation.

Does anyone disagree that this is the real situation?

Political scientist – I can neither disagree about the facts as told by the police officer or the former judicial officer, but, what is the way out?

Police officer– I see no way out.

Retired judicial officer– I do not see any way out either.

Philosopher– One conclusion is that we have to learn to live with it. In which case, our Journalist here today may be the next to be killed. Next may be the political scientist and then me. Only the other two will survive.

Police officer– I do not know whether even both of us are safe.

Retired judicial officer– Well, may I raise the same question. Even if we are killed, will not inaction do less harm than doing anything that we might do to enforce law.

Philosopher- You mean, the law is a dangerous thing?

Retired judicial officer – Well you may not want me to be brutally frank. But, the fact is that to insist on law is now a very dangerous thing. Law is always dangerous when justice does not exist.

Journalist– Well, I am going to publish this dialogue. You all are safe because, I will not disclose your identities. But, I must stick to my professional obligation. Perhaps all that all of you will do when they visit me, is to deny that you ever knew me. May you all live long.

PART 2 ( Published on July 08, 2009)

Journalist: In our last discussion, the police officer told us that in the case of Lasantha Wickramatunge no one has told the police not to investigate, and at the same time no one in fact was investigating the case. Can we take it as a general condition regarding all cases?

Senior Police Officer: Well, we do some work to occupy ourselves.

Philosopher: Well, if you didn’t you would have to close shop. The problem is how to keep the department yet do no real work.

Retired Judicial officer: It all depends on what real works means. Do any of us do any real work anymore?

Political Scientist: Let us retain loose meanings for some words. It is difficult to define what is real and unreal in present circumstances. Unreal often seems more real these days. Just to walk up and kill your opponent in open daylight does not seem real. James Bond type of stuff, you might think. But it is no longer fantasy. Such things happen all the time nowadays.

Senior Police Officer: Let me put it this way: no one tells us not to investigate. However, we do not always investigate. You may think that that sounds like a riddle. It may be. Whether it is or not, that is how things happen.

Political Scientist: Once again, as a statement of the actual situation, what the police officer says is correct.

Philosopher: From our last discussion we do have an explanation about cases that police do not investigate. Those are things that are likely to bring more harm to themselves, if they were to try to investigate. So, we may conclude that things that are no harm to investigate will be among the things that that they may investigate.

Senior Police Officer: I cannot contradict that.

Philosopher: That would mean you have no obligation to investigate.

Senior Police Officer: Obligations? No, no. Such a thing called obligation does not exist any more. Ha, ha.

I might add that the only obligation may be not to bring about harm on ourselves. You may think that is being selfish. Well, that’s how things are.

Political Scientist: If you think obligations are no longer relevant, does it not follow that law is no longer relevant?

Retired Judicial Officer: How far should we talk freely about such matters? We do need to say that law is relevant and even supreme. It may be harmful to talk frankly about how things really are.

Journalist: Let us feel free here. Let us uncensor ourselves.

Retired Judicial officer: Let me put it this way. We are a poor country and therefore cannot have supremacy of law. We do not have resources to enforce law. This means that we know that law is not all that important.

Philosopher: What then is important?

Retired Judicial Officer: To let the things be, and not bring more harm to ourselves by insisting on things like obligations and laws.

Journalist: Does this mean that what we call our own system, or our homegrown system, is one where law and obligations have no real importance? It is one in which we do in ad hoc manner whatever we think is appropriate?

Senior Police Officer: That seems accurate to me.

Retired Judicial Officer: It seems right, but we should not put it so crudely.

Political Scientist: It is good description of what is. But, when there is no ideal to compare it with, you cannot say whether it is good or bad.

Philosopher: It is not difficult to say that all this is very bad. By saying that it is our own system, our homegrown system, we only are trying to hide how wretched our situation is.

08 July, 2009

South Asian militarisation, de-populating villages and lessons from Sri Lanka

Cropped Red Pen LogoSri Lanka reigns high among the most literate societies not only in South Asia, but in the whole world. Yet Sri Lanka has not learnt how it could develop its little island nation, which at independence was considered the Switzerland of SA and in early 60’s was taken as an icon for prosperity by Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yu. Now, 60 plus years after independence, SL has a lesson for most leaders in countries plagued by armed conflicts.

Sri Lanka’s war against the Tamil Tigers, that left over 300,000 civilians as refugees in their own homeland and a terror State that wouldn’t loosen the screws on democracy, is being adopted by other States in flushing out their own conflicts.

The present SL regime which uprooted whole Tamil villages in the Wanni holds its own citizens in barbed tracer wire camps and their resettlement and rehabilitation would be in heavily militarised areas, after weeding out suspect “Tiger Terrorists”. These militarised settlement areas would be provided with a brand name – Relief Villages”.

The logic is simple. The Western international HR agencies and the international community including the UN and its Security Council will not go beyond issuing statements and making visits that can be restricted to meeting with State officials and their political leaders. That would not have any issue, beyond another Statement. Officially, these international agencies and communities would support eliminating “terrorism” and they can not oppose that. Unofficially they would all provide assistance in different ways to sustain the regime and wage war against “terrorism” provided civilian casualties could be down played.

This requires nothing more than a media with blinkers and coercing journalists to fall in line. Human Rights violations don’t count any more, even if they extend over to crimes against humanity and war crimes. South Asian neighbours didn’t want any of it investigated against the Sri Lankan government at the UNHRC sessions.

This now seems the way the Indian State is heading with its counter terrorist operations and so is it, in the SWAT valley and Waziristan that now have more than ten times the refugee number in SL. Just 48 hours ago, Pakistani President Zardari was quoted as saying, India and Pakistan must co-operate to end “terrorism” in the region.

Lalgarh OperationJust a week ago, when the West Bengal government went out to beat the Maoist armed rebels in Lalgarh, the public plea made by the authorities was for NGO’s and the media to avoid the conflict zone. “Allow the CRPF and CoBRA forces to do their job” was their plain call.

If the writing on the wall isn’t clear, read the news item below.

Residents of N.C. Hills villages to be relocated

The Assam government has decided to temporarily relocate residents of about 50 villages in the troubled North Cachar Hills district to nine identified clusters of Dimasa and Zeme Naga villages.

The move is to facilitate a full-scale counter-insurgency operation in the hill district on the line of “Operation Accomplishment” launched in 1967 in the then Mizo Hills of the State (present Mizoram).

About 10,000 villagers will have to be shifted to the identified cluster locations. Of these nine locations, six will be for regrouping the Zeme Naga villages and the remaining three for Dimasa villages. The Zeme Naga clusters are Boro Chenam, Nriachibunglo/Michidui, N. Kubing, Guilong, Bagetar and Namjrang. For regrouping the Dimasa villages, three cluster locations will be in the villages Samparidisa, Bonjen and Tkanalambra.

In accordance with the regrouping plan, the district administration had spoken to apex bodies of both the Dimasas and Zeme Nagas, and over the next week the administration will try to persuade the village headmen to shift to the clusters.

Of the nine clusters, eight will have a fixed picket of one platoon of Assam Police Battalion while one will have Border Security Force (BSF). Each of the cluster locations will have temporary shelters made of CGI sheets and tarpaulin. The district administration also plans to construct temporary pit latrines, provide the villagers with water treatment kits, lanterns and supply additional quantity of kerosene as most of these clusters do not have electricity. For the Assam Police Battalion platoons that will be deployed on fixed picket duty in these clusters, sand bags, generator sets and perimeter lighting will be provided.

The government also plans to provide rations to the regrouped villagers till the operations are over and the militants are flushed out of their villages.

Once the villagers are shifted, the Army, the Assam Police and Central paramilitary forces will launch a full-scale coordinated operation against the militants, who have been attacking Dimasa and Zeme Naga villages in the district since March 19.

So far, the militants’ attack on these villages have claimed 47 lives and forced about 6,500 people to take shelter in makeshift relief camps. The militants also set ablaze about 500 houses, school buildings and business establishments.

Although about 70 companies of security forces are deployed in the hill district, the militant outfits have been carrying on with their attacks taking advantage of the fact that most of these villages are located in remote areas and are not accessible by road.

In 1967, about 45,000 residents of 107 villages in then Mizo hills of Assam were relocated to 18 group centres between January 4 and February 23, 1967 by the Army under the operation codenamed “Operation Accomplishment.” After the villagers were shifted, the Army launched “Operation Satsriakal” against the guerrillas of the Mizo National Army, the armed wing of the Mizo National Front in the de-populated villages.

Article by Sushanta Talukdar

Posted by SouthAsiaSpeaks – 01 July, 2009

(Previous week)

Democracy in the North, where Tamils wouldn’t matter

Cropped Red Pen LogoHow much can a government ridicule and humiliate a people ? And how long will those people endure such pain ?

This perhaps is what needs to be posed for all peace, human rights and democratic activists there in Sri Lanka, in India and in South Asia for answers. Of course, the  Western States can be left out as not very relevant in terms of Sri Lanka and its new alliances

These peace, human rights and democratic activists have not said what they feel and think in any clear terms, about the local government elections scheduled for North SL. The SL government of course talks proud they have brought “democracy” to the Northern Tamil people, who were under Tamil Tiger tyranny for three decades. Though that accusation about tyranny under the LTTE is not questioned, this Sinhala regime, under the official seal of the Rajapaksa presidencycan not play “sober” talking about the Tigers.

This regime has already made a mockery of democracy in the East, although the Delhi administration and the international agencies accept the Eastern Provincial Council as “alright” for democracy. They play blind to the mock elections held with armed para military groups controlling every aspect of the elections, from pre nominations to voting, through polls campaigning.

Elections for the Jaffna Municipal Council and the Vavuniya Urban Council would be more than the Eastern province mockery. True, with all the State patronized fire cracker frenzy over the defeat of the LTTE and eliminating of its leader(s), the Sri Lankan South is in a political coma, unable to gather its wits to understand what exactly is being acted out by the Rajapaksa regime, but happy the Tigers were defeated.

True, the media, hacked and sawed out of shape, so that it could only blurt out what the defense establishment wants, carries everything nice about the government and these elections. True and shamefully too, the big time peace dudes who were for total power sharing even an year ago when foreign funds were freely available, are now writing about the democratic space an election would provide for North.

Those Tamil ticks on the furry coat of this government, no doubt would keep their proboscis stretched to have a good life sucked out of these elections. The main Opposition as now expected of them, proves they are both deaf and blind to ground realities and talks big in handing over nominations.

What is this “democracy” all these people and the government are talking of ? Beyond Medawachchiya, no civil commuting is permitted on either the A-9 or the A-40 routes. Prior permission needs to be obtained from the Ministry of Defense (MoD) in Colombo. The only link with the Jaffna peninsula for the last 04 years is by sea from Trincomalee, or by air from Ratmalana Air force base. That flight costs Rs. 31,000 per person after waiting on the list.

For any one familiar with the SL map, elections are being held in a wholly separated North that can only be accessed at great cost and that too if the MoD provides clearance. That in no uncertain terms would means even political party leaders would have to live with MoD clearances that may take many days, or even weeks to come by, with the “ok” stamped.

That’s for those who wish to ‘fly’ into the political fray of electioneering. How is it otherwise for those living in those secluded, dry, chalk plains in the North ? The total population in the Jaffna peninsula is now said to be much less than 600,000 excluding those 5,500 plus recent IDP’s.  All of them live under a 42,000 strong military occupation. That’s 01 soldier for every 14 citizens, the infants and the feeble old included.

That’s not the only armed strength in Jaffna. Apart from the military, there is also the Navy, very much a presence operating from Jaffna, Karainagar, KKS and Chullipuram camps. The worst is that the EPDP also maintains its armed cadres, who work with the military on intelligence and counter terrorist operations.

For over 02 years now, the military is running the life in Jaffna, on their own terms with the media completely and ruthlessly reduced to a ‘non entity’. The world, therefore does not know what life is like, in the Jaffna peninsula.

Any Tamil person living in the Jaffna peninsula has to have in person at any time, at least 03 types of personal “identity permits” approved and accepted by the military. There is the usual NIC, another special permit issued by the military, plus a third, a special resident permit issued by the local security head. All of them have acutely restricted the mobility of the people, as the people should have a reason, accepted as valid by the military, for leaving their immediate resident area.

There are security barricades almost every 50 metres on any road. At all of these barricades, every one is liable to be even bodily checked. All houses are checked at any time of the day by groups of armed men presumably the military. They are some times accompanied by para military hooded ‘informants’.  The right to know who enters homes for these searches, can never be a ‘right’ in Jaffna.

There are of course the barest minimum of social activity that keeps any agonising society beat with life. Buses do run, though not in any regular manner. Transport therefore is skeletal. Groceries do have those basics, but at a high cost. What is intermittently shipped to KKS and distributed after military approval, gets into the visible market. State administration survives on the dictates of the military.

What is the freedom in Jaffna when those people don’t even have access to any news and information ? There, the military decides what they should know and should not. In very simple language, Jaffna is the land of the “uprooted and breathing dead”. North in every way, is no organised society, in any way.

And, in such a society, the total process of electioneering would be in the hands of the “armed groups” and those who could command the support of the security forces. That happened in the East, both during the local government and provincial council elections. Some who wanted to contest from the opposition and considered very popular, were threatened, were tortured and were even abducted to deny them from filing their nominations. There were also incidents of “forced candidates” at gun point who had their names included as candidates. There were also independent nomination lists handed over. Some were from Colombo and some were “extras” handed over by the powerful armed groups. Campaigning was also equally uncertain for some and risky to the point of loosing life.

Yet today, since the opposition political parties also contested that vulgar elections, the local government bodies and the Eastern PC have become legitimate authorities according to law. But not according to the needs of the people in those districts in the East.

Now in the North, where the participation of the people will not be in any way a factor in any aspect of this elections, political parties would scheme to have nomination lists organised, for the sake of contesting. Its any body’s guess those people in the North would not know who their candidates are. And its their guess that even if they don’t go to vote, their vote will not go waste.

Let it be very clear and let us not fool ourselves. DEMOCRACY in the North, will not be the issue at elections. This Rajapaksa regime is not interested in democracy either.  It would be, once again, legitimising the “armed oppression” of the North and its people, in their own name.

It would be taken for granted that the North had accepted this regime and thus would be told so. With elections participated by all in the South and by those who compromise with the South, those innocents can not even oppose, most unfortunately.

24 June, 2009

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