by Hemantha Warnakulasuriya
The perennial question posed by chauvinists, morbid racists and even moderates, who do not subscribe to the views of the other two groups, is ‘ what are the rights the Tamils are denied as against Sinhalese?’ Even I am sometimes dumb founded by such remarks as a ready answer is not available.
During the tenure of President Chandrika Kumaratunga the Sinhala lobbyists said ‘we have a Tamil Chief Justice, Inspector General of Police and a Foreign Minister, can anyone else, unless he is an Eelamist, say that we have discriminated against them.
They should understand the strides the majority has taken to bring equality among all races. The war was raging, we had been bombarded with facts and figures which proved that the LTTE was conscripting children as solders and committing the most atrocious crimes in the name of freedom. Nevertheless, the Tamils seem to support and even deify Prabhakaran as Suriyan (Sun God) who cannot be destroyed.
The essential difference between the Southern terrorist and the northern terrorist is that the southern terrorist never had the support of the masses without wielding a gun. With Wijeweera ‘s death the DJV died a natural death and the JVP was in its last throes. But, neither had the demise of Prabhahakaran nor the defeat of the LTTE made any dent in the loyalties of the Tamils. This is the main reason why reasonable people, who would do anything to achieve ethnic harmony and national reconciliation, have become traitors in the eyes of the misled Sinhala majority.
So, the perennial question keeps on surfacing. The Tamils do not trust the Sinhala propaganda that the Sinhalese have no time or reason to look into the grievances of the Tamils. When I posed this question to a Tamil Lawyer, who has been a friend of mine from the time I entered the profession, he told me that in order to understand the essential difference between being a Sinhalese and a Tamil you must be born as a Tamil. “Otherwise, you will never realise the hardship, the discrimination that we undergo under the Sinhala Regime. Take the 13th Amendment. Though the LTTE, JVP, and the DJV opposed the implementation of the 13th amendment there were many Tamils who were opposed to LTTE Terrorism and expected that with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, the problems of the Tamils could be solved to a great extent. We believed that Rajiv Gandhi would ensure that JRJ would not renege on the undertaking given by him to India at the behest of the Sinhala Chauvinist. On the other hand Prabhakaran was praying to all the deities that JRJ would eventually make the 13th Amendment a dead letter. Prabhakaran succeeded and all moderate Tamils failed. All Tamils who supported the 13th Amendment were killed and were considered traitors to the cause of Eelam.” So the debate rages on.
When I was in Courts about 15 men and women were produced. They were Estate Tamils and had come to Colombo in search of foreign employment. The offence they had committed to be arrested and produced in Court was that some of them did not possess their National Identity Card. Some women were with young children. None of them could speak Sinhalese or English. The Interpreter Mudaliyar did not know Tamil either. As they were brought to Court at about 3.00 p.m. they could not obtain the assistance of a lawyer. I was appalled at seeing these helpless men and women from the estates being produced in Court without committing any offence under the Penal Code. I told one of my juniors to appear for them pro-bono. The Police identified about two men and another man who had no identify cards with them. They were trying to say something in Tamil. No one understood. But the others had in their possession the National Identity Cards, yet the Police moved that all of them be remanded. When the junior protested the police said that they had given information about them to other Police Stations and were awaiting messages clearing them of any criminal or terrorist activity. This was the time of terror.
Every Tamil woman was perceived to be a Suicide bomber. The Magistrate, ignoring the plea of the junior lawyer, remanded them for 14 days. The women, children and the men were herded to a remand cell. Some were wailing and crying profusely over their predicament. I noted down the next date and was present in Court to see what would happen to them. They had been able to retain lawyers of their own. The Court as was the usual practice, insisted that every person had two sureties to bail them out and the place of residence of the sureties be certified by the Grama Sevaka. After 14 days, the police had not found any fresh material to remand them further.
The three suspects who did not have Identity card and were trying to say something to the Court had left their ID cards with the Job Agent along with their Passport. This is what they were trying to explain. The Magistrate thereafter questioned every surety and their relationship to the accused. One of the sureties produced the Grama Sevaka’s certificate. The Magistrate asked him whether there was a waterfall near his village. He mumbled something in Tamil and no one understood. The Magistrate suspected that the surety’s place of residence as deposed to by the Grama Sevaka was false. Similarly, a few others who did not stand up to the scrutiny of the Magistrate were remanded again.
The men and women who had come all the way from Welimada were howling and crying. The Police Sergeant promptly arrested them and locked them in the police cell for disturbing Court. They were charged with contempt of Court and fined. I found that the main reason for this imbroglio was that no one understood what those men and women were trying to say as there was no competent Mudaliyar. Thereafter, I made some inquiries to find out whether there were no Tamils interpreters in Court. I was told that there was great dearth of Tamil interpreters and only if there was a Tamil witness, the Judicial Services Commission would allocate a Tamil interpreter.
I was petrified by the horrendous justice imparted on those destitutes, who had come to Colombo in search of green pastures. A few days later there was a bomb blast at the Fort Railway station where a suicide bomber blasted himself killing the entire D. S. Senanayake College basketball team. Till that moment the main topic of discussion in the Lawyers’ chamber was the vociferous condemnation of the justice imparted to those destitute people. Several of my contemporaries argued with me daying that unprecedented situations demanded unprecedented action. Otherwise, Colombo would be a haven for terrorists. After this incident, I was trying to understand the action of the police and Courts.
I was also informed of how several estate workers had yielded to the demands of the terrorists. They were rationalized, as stated and the police would have to take every possible step to safeguard you and your children. The bomb blasts shocked me and suddenly my philosophy of ethnic harmony and reconciliation seemed to be battered by the sight of those young children blasted to pieces by the LTTE. I remained silent for a number of months. Only at the last stages of the war that it was revealed, that the man who transported the suicide bomber was not a Tamil, But a Sinhalese Gazetted police officer.