The three decade long Eelam War came to an end in May 2009 with the decimation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The people of Sri Lanka who had faced untold misery during the war, hardly had time to heave a long sigh of relief and breathe reely when ‘Grease Yakas’ entered the scene in the war ravaged Eastern Province.
This new phenomenon is creating a fear psychosis and is spreading to other areas. Allegations are rife that men daubed with grease, dressed and painted as traditional lookalikes of devils, are attacking women in these areas. In many households the males have been killed or disappeared during the war and only the female folk are left.
| Villagers in Urani in the Batticaloa district clashed with the police over the grease devil issue recently
Allegations and counter allegations are traded between residents backed by political representatives, and state agencies. Residents allege complicity on the part of the security forces to create a fear psychosis with a view to justify increased presence of security forces in these areas. The security forces, police and medical personnel allege the allegations are false and aimed at getting the security forces and police of the central government, withdrawn. The Provincial Council is clamouring to have its own police.
As to who is behind the “Grease Yakas’ is not the important factor. That something is rotten in the State of Sri Lanka is what it points to. It means ethnic unrest is building up again ominously. As long as there is mistrust, there will be a resurgence of violence.
In this context we have lessons to learn from history. So let us briefly examine the relevant history since the period leading up to independence: Sri Lankan Tamil national awareness began during the era of the British rule resulting from large scale activities of Christian Missionaries in the country. This led to a revival of the Hindu Faith among Tamils. Tamil Hindu revivalists, led by Armugam Navalar, used literacy to spread Hinduism and its principles - a very fair move indeed.
In 1921 the British introduced communal representation in the Legislative Council. This made the Tamils realize that they were a minority ethnic group. With this communal representation, Tamil national awareness changed to political consciousness, and they formed the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) headed by GG Ponnambalam. During the period leading to Sri Lanka’s (then Ceylon) independence, political tension began to develop between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil communities when the ACTC, sighting the possibility of the majority Sinhalese adopting a dominant posture, pushed for “fifty-fifty” representation in Parliament. This policy would allot half to Sinhalese and half to minorities consisting Muslims, Tamils and Indian Tamils.
In 1947 G G Ponnambalam canvassed for this before the Soulbury Commission, calling it “balanced representation”. This fifty-fifty policy was opposed by the Muslims and sections of Tamils as well. DS Senanayake, the leader of the Sinhalese political groups, allowed Ponnambalam free rein over representations before the Soulbury Commission by preventing Sinhalese nationalists such as SWRD Bandaranaike from going before the Soulbury Commission, and thus avoided acrimonious arguments. The Soulbury Commission however, rejected the charges of discrimination against Tamils and also rejected the fifty-fifty formula pointing out that it would subvert democracy.
Thereafter the ACTC decided to adopt a new policy: “responsive co-operation” with progressive minded Sinhalese and in 1948 Ponnambalam decided to merge the ACTC with the ruling UNP, although he had stated earlier that the UNP was not progressive minded. The merger did not have the full support of the ACTC and it ended with the party splitting in half – one half with UNP and the other half led by SJV Chelvanayakam leaving the party altogether and forming the Federal Party (FP) in 1949. The FP gained popularity among Tamil people because it advocated Tamil rights. It did not ask for a separate Tamil state or even for self determination. They lobbied for a unified state which would give Tamil and Sinhalese equal status as regards official language and provide considerable autonomy in the Tamil areas.
It was against this backdrop that during the SLFP government led by SWRD Bandaranaike, the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact was signed in 1957, but pressure from the opposition UNP and extremist groups led Bandaranaike to abolish the pact. Again in 1965, during the UNP Government, a similar pact was signed known as the Dudley-Chelvanayakam pact. This too could not be implemented for similar reasons. The UNP was defeated in 1970 and replaced by United Front (UF) Government led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
The Government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike adopted new policies that severely discriminated against the Tamil people. The FP opposed these policies and Chelvanayakam resigned his parliamentary seat in October 1972. In 1973 the FP was driven to demand a separate autonomous Tamil State. Until 1973 Chelvanayakam and the FP had always campaigned for a unified country and believed that any partitioning would be suicidal. With the new policies discriminating against the Tamils, the FP in 1975 merged with the other Tamil political parties to become the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). In 1976 the Vaddukoddai Resolution advocating a separate state was unanimously adopted by the TULF. This led to the Eelam war, the history of which is too well remembered and I do not intend to elaborate on it here.
Now we have these ‘Grease Yakas’ to contend with. Taking our minds over the relevant history, it becomes clear that it is politicians seeking cheap political gains, on both sides of the divide, who are to blame for the mistrust that has been building up over the years. The same old divisive politics is showing its ugly tentacles again. Had the other politicians followed statesmen of the calibre of DS Senanayake and the saintly SJV Chelvanayakam and sorted out matters, this country would have been a paradise today. Unfortunately, politicians we have today don’t seem to know what statesmanship is.
It is for the majority community to be magnanimous to the minorities and win their confidence.
After all, the spirit of democracy would entail a people’s government as against a majoritarian government repressing minority rights. The two main Sinhalese parties, UNP and SLFP, are both to blame for failing to convince the majority Sinhalese that the minorities are entitled to equal rights. Unless and until this is done, mistrust will grow and violence will get the better of peaceful co-existence which alone could regain paradise lost.
The writer is a retired Senior Superintendent of Police