Interview + Douglas Devananda:
Failure Of The Tamil Struggle Is Down To The Tamils
In an interview, the leader of the Ealam Peoples’ Democratic Party talks about whether he thinks Sri Lanka will have to deal with another violent episode in the near future.
There are a number of basic steps that need to be taken if the reconciliation process is to be successful in Sri Lanka, Douglas Devananda, leader of the Ealam Peoples’ Democratic Party, explains in an interview.
Devananda, who fought with the militant Tamil Tigers before turning against them and their methods, also recalls why he joined the militants when he was younger and whether he thinks there is chance of another violent armed struggle breaking out in the near future, if reconciliation is not a success.
The Catamaran: What was the reason for your joining the armed struggle at the beginning?
I always insisted on a democratic resolution to any disputes but some believed in resolving all problems through violence.
Douglas Devananda: The performances of the political leaders of the Tamil people at the time were disappointing. Those disappointments and displeasures, and the undemocratic activities of the government, caused the young people to take up arms and fight.
The Catamaran: With the benefit of hindsight, and given all that you have seen and done, do you think taking up an armed struggle was the right thing to do back then?
Devananda: At that time, it was the only option. But when the Tamils who took up arms started to fight amongst themselves, when their undemocratic methods began, that impacted the struggle. We should have had a road map for the struggle. Failure to do this changed the direction of the struggle, as well as weakened it.
The Catamaran: Why did the Tamil split and begin to fight among themselves?
Devananda: Although the armed movements all aimed to win rights for the Tamil people, they had different ideas about who the enemy was, and how to fight. They were not completely clear as to who was friend and who was foe. That was the reason for the internal fighting.
I always insisted on a democratic resolution to any disputes but some believed in resolving all problems through violence. A difference of opinion arose. History has shown that my approach was the right one and in fact, those who criticised it at the time, have since been drawn towards that approach themselves.
The Catamaran: Do you think the Sri Lankan government will ever offer the Tamils a good solution – or do you think there is a need for some sort of mediation by the international community?
Devananda: The idea that the international community could step in to find a solution for the Tamil people is a bogus promise, made up by the Tamil National Alliance to snatch the votes of the Tamil people. It’s not at all feasible. The international community will act in its own interests, whenever it deals with the Sri Lankan government. Sometimes, in order to pressure Sri Lanka, the international community uses the Tamils’ political demands or humanitarian issues. The Tamils could make better use of that.
The Catamaran: If efforts at reconciliation in Sri Lanka fail, do you worry that we might see armed struggle begin again?
Devananda: Fighting ruined the lives of Tamils for the past three decades. If the Tamil political leadership handles settlements well, then the need for a new armed struggle will not arise.
Reconciliation should be considered like the application of medicine to the minds left wounded by war. To achieve this, there are some basic things that need to be done. Solutions need to be found for some very primary Tamil problems: returning ancestral lands to the Tamils, releasing political prisoners, conducting a genuine investigation into those people who disappeared, coming up with meaningful resettlement programmes and withdrawing excess troops from the north and east of the country.
At the same time, reconciliation projects must address the fears and suspicions of the Sinhalese people and of our Muslim brothers and sisters. Reconciliation can only happen if it is based on a process free of fear and suspicion. We, the Ealam Peoples’ Democratic Party, have established our part as a link between north and south.
The Catamaran: What is your opinion on a memorial day at Mullivaikal, to commemorate the thousands of lives lost there at the end of the civil war?
Devananda: The Tamil National Alliance welcomed the horrendous deaths of the Tamils. They wanted to see the Tamil Tigers eliminated, so that they could carry on with their political activities. So they neither stopped the war nor saved our people from death. Today they shed crocodile tears and when our people mourn the loved ones they lost, these politicians make use of it for political gain.
I believe a common day of remembrance and mourning should be decided upon. I even brought a private member’s bill concerning this.
The Catamaran: There are other issues too, that you have brought up in parliament. For example, the fact that you believe that Sri Lankan history is being distorted in local textbooks.
Devananda: It is not only in the history textbooks, but also in Hindu religious studies textbooks. I have spoken about this to the relevant minister and officials and had constructive discussions with experts in Tamil language and with social activists too. As a result, various expert committees are giving advice on the writing of these textbooks. Hopefully such errors will not occur again.
The Catamaran: And do you have any thoughts on the fact that Sinhalese people have been placing Buddhist statues in Tamil, Hindu areas?
Devananda: There are a number of complaints about this. In my opinion, there is no problem with renovating Buddhist temples or placing Buddhist statues in areas where there is a historical Buddhist connection. However arbitrarily placing the statutes on Tamil land under the pretext of archaeological preservation should not be permitted. I have expressed this opinion in writing, to the prime minister.