Monday, November 04, 2013

Lankan Tamil civil war

Read this post below from Quora that very well briefs about the conflict of Tamils in Lanka. More posts here:
http://www.quora.com/India/What-is-Indias-involvement-in-LTTE-movement

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The Sri Lankan Civil war has a complex dynamics. As a kid I lived in a region where Sri Lankan TV & Jaffna Radio was the only signal we got as Doordarshan often had poor reception. Many of the people there had very emotional relationships with Lanka. One of my 1st grade friends had a name Ravanan (his father's name was Indrajeet) and he used to say he will revenge for IPKF (happened during my kindergarten). Even as a kid he used to make small clay pellets to use with catapults that he said will use for Tamil freedom. I never understood then why he was such a lunatic. 
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Part 1: Demographics
There are three main groups here:
  1. Sinhalese - who are predominantly Buddhist or Christian. 74% of Srilankans are Sinhalese. These people are believed to have migrated from Bengal, 2500 years ago. Prince Vijaya. 
  2. Srilankan Tamils - who are predominantly Hindu. These people are there in the island, since antiquity. According to some people in TN, the Hindu character of Ravan was a Tamil. They form about 15% of the population.
  3. Indian Tamils - These are people who migrated from India during the British era to work in the plantations. They are also predominantly Hindu, although there are also sizable muslims and christians here. These are the people worst affected in the war. They form about 11% of the population.

Part 2: India and Sri Lanka in Ancient History
In 3rd century BC, Sinhalese were converted to Ashoka's Buddhism (that originated around the Bihar/Bengal region), while the Tamils have always maintained close ties with kingdoms of Tamilnadu and hence Hinduism was their main religion.

Tamil kingdoms of the south India, especially the Cholas, have always fought the Lankans and have even invaded a few times. However, Lankans were also allied with another Tamil kingdom Pandyas (the arch rivals of Cholas). Since these native Tamil kingdoms fell in about 13rd century, Tamilnadu started having less of influence over Sri Lanka. Both the Tamils and Sinhalese had a lot of genetic influence from the Indian Tamils.
Part 3: Lankan-Tamil relationships
Things were normal for centuries. When Britain took over the island in  1815 they started their own "divide-and-rule" there. They brought  communal representations for each community. 

Since the 19th century, the Srilankan Tamils became the most progressive community among three and quickly climbed the ladders of civil service and governance. Even the highest job in the colonial rule was held by a Tamil -Ponnambalam Arunachalam. By  1948, when Sri Lanka got its independence, 60% of all government jobs  were held by the Lankan Tamils who constituted less than 15% of the  population. This brought plenty of resentment among the Sinhalese who felt disenfranchised and in that year two controversial acts were passed:

  1. Ceylon Citizenship Act - Stripped the Tamils of Indian origin (who were there for generations) of their citizenship rights.
  2. Policy of standardization - Instituted policy minimums that significantly reduced the Tamil involvement in education and civil service.

Since 1950s, Sri Lankan government pushed an active form of ethnic cleansing through the Sri Lankan state sponsored colonisation schemes which effectively meant Sinhalese have to distributed in those areas that were Tamil strongholds.

Part 4: Violence grips Tamils
In 1956, Sri Lanka passed the Sinhala Only Act that effectively made Sinhalese as the official language stripping Tamil of official recognition. This was followed by a massive riot against the Tamils in 1958 when Ceylon changed its official name to the Sanskritized Sri Lanka (from Ramayana): 1958 riots in Ceylon. The riots left 200 Tamils dead.

In 1974, during the International Tamil conference at Jaffna (capital of Tamil Eelam), Sri Lankan soliders used brutal force and led to the loss of 9 lives. 1974 Tamil conference incident 

 In 1970s, Sri Lanka banned the import of magazines and periodicals from Tamilnadu. In 1981, the precious Jaffna Tamil library (one of the biggest in Asia) was burnt: Burning of Jaffna library 1981. This broke the camel's back.


Part 5: Demand for Separate Tamil Land
By 1970s, the Tamils had thrown their towel due to the events above. Two separate groups of separatists emerged:

Tamil United Liberation Front: who wanted to achieve through peaceful means.
wikipedia.org
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam: had no hesitation to use violence and force.

They started demanding a separate nation for them - Tamil Eelam (the native name for that region with the green areas below. 


In 1983 the worst of anti-Tamil pogroms happened: Black July. This was reported provoked when LTTE did its first ambush, killing 13 SL soldiers. Four Four Bravo 


Part 6: Indian involvementTraining the Tigers.
As things started to get out of hand in Lanka, India was worried. There was huge pressure from Tamilnadu parties for an intervention. Meanwhile, Sri lanka started moving towards US and Pakistan, giving Indira Gandhi hard thing to worry about national security. 

For India, these were the following considerations:
  1. Sri Lanka was aligned with the US and Pakistan. India was at that time aligned with USSR (and it is rumored at USSR's KGB had a high level of control over Indian bureaucracy: 'KGB moles infiltrated Indira's PMO'). It was at the height of cold war (early 1980s) and India had to break the US-SL nexus. LTTE proved an ideal folly for India. 
  2. The brutality of pogroms in Sri Lanka was forcing droves of refugees into India. Historically, Sri Lankan Tamils had a high level of support in Tamil Nadu and politicians including MG Ramachandran & Karunananidhi put enormous pressure on the centre. Indira Gandhi needed one of these to shore up her politics.

Thus,  India started involving herself. All over TN there were camps in 1970s  & 80s, that started training the tigers. It is rumored that these  were trained in the Arcot districts of TN where there are plenty of  forests. Indira Gandhi helped train Tamil rebels, and reaped whirlwind. India trained 5 extremist organizations using RAW:Jain Commission: Growth of Tamil militancy 
  1. PLOTE
  2. EPRLF
  3. TELO
  4. EROS
  5. LTTE

Each was given its own camps across Tamil Nadu and some even went to Libya, Syria and Lebanon to get trained. They learned the deadly tactics of suicide bombing (LTTE was the world's most advanced in this deadly skill).

In a short time, severe in-fighting among these groups emerged. In 1982, LTTE supremo Prabhakaran had a shootout his rival Uma Maheswaran in broad daylight in the middle of Chennai (Pondy Bazar). Although the police arrested him, he was released immediately on bail (presumably due to the intervention of RAW). Chennai court closes criminal charge against slain LTTE chief 

Eventually, the other organizations either got merged or got destroyed by LTTE. 

Part 7: India about-turn. IPKF
At the peak of the civil war in 1987, India dropped supplies in Jaffna: Operation Poomalai and foiled an attempt by SL army to win over the rebels.  And then on May 1987, Rajiv made an inexplicable move to cozy up with the lankans through theIndo-Sri Lanka Accord. Under the terms of that accord, India was to deploy a peace keeping mission. As though to warn that SL government is untrustworthy, an SL solider attempts assassination on Rajiv when we was in Colombo as an official guest. He is a successful politician in SL now: Vijitha Rohana 
   
That blind trust over Sri Lankans, cost India and Rajiv too dear. Just like his grandfather he labored some grand visions of neighborhood friendship only to appear foolish eventually. India was bruttally bruised in Ceylon by both the Lankans and Tamils. Indian Peace Keeping Force 

Part 8: Frankenstein turns its head
LTTE was furious at this about turn by Rajiv. But, the monster had already been set loose. Close to 10K Tamils and 1200 Indian soldiers died unnecessarily. Prabharakan was in a blind rage and ordered assassins to kill Rajiv. 

I was a kid during that time and we were spending our vacation in the island of Rameswaram (stone's throw from Lanka) when the assassination happened. It immediately set off panic throughout India. It was really scary time back then. That was the time I started reading newspapers, though too young to understand much. There were raids as India made a massive offensive against the Tigers. 
Also see: Sri Lanka profile - Timeline

Since then, the public support for the Lankan Tamils have dwindled and given that the cold war ended in late 80s, India had no need for LTTE. Indian army provided increasingly strong support to the SL army that led to the eventually destruction of Tigers in 2010.

#Tamil #LTTE #SriLanka #Rajiv #Jaffna