A decision by a local bank to suspend two of its employees for commemorating the war dead of the final phase of the Eelam war has now caused a fresh wave of controversy. The ‘disciplinary action’ was purportedly taken after Sinhala nationalist social media highlighted the incident. The Bank said in a media statement, “HNB takes very seriously any sentiment or act that is in violation of, or poses a threat to the morale of citizens of Sri Lanka. As a Bank that stands for all Sri Lankans, our goals, interests and initiatives are all aligned to the vision and greater good of our Country.”
“We regret an unauthorized incident that took place recently in one of our branches, which does not reflect the values of the Bank. The matter has been investigated and necessary action taken.”
The management response has however drawn condemnation from Tamil society, and Tamil diaspora groups, who are unlikely to have accounts on the HNB anyway, have called for a boycott of the bank.
The third question however is political connotations behind these events
This incident raises several important questions which go beyond the usual contentions over the amount of control that an employer can have over its employees. In general, companies that try to control private lives of their employees are loathed, sued and discredited. Whereas, there is no consensus as to how much control the employers could wield over the professional conduct of their workers. The problem get complicated when the private conduct of the employees are intertwined, or viewed as such, with their professional lives. Commemorating the war dead in an impromptu event inside the Kilinochchi branch of the HNB during the working hours falls well within the employer’s purview. However, businesses do celebrate many events, ranging from religious and national festivities to the Indian Ocean tsunami. On the other hand, if the HNB employees in Hambantota choose to commemorate those who perished in the JVP uprising in 1989, one would wonder whether the bank would act with the same diligence. This lead to the second question of what is ‘permissible’ – and what is not. That is a tricky question, more so in the context of ethnic polarization and political fragmentation in the country. Suspended employees have defended their action, claiming that they had commemorated the dead civilians, and not the LTTE. Sinhala nationalist right in the South thinks otherwise, and the bank has cowed into their pressure. Leave aside the discredited claims of ‘zero civilian casualties’ , a claim which effectively handed over a propaganda victory to the Eelam Tamil fringe, there is no gainsaying that a considerable number of civilians perished during the war.
The government’s repeated failure to give an accurate death count, which is not so much to provide, unless of course, there is a concerted effort by either side to distort the numbers , has now given rise to various concocted figures. If those suspended employees in Kilinochchi, have family members perished in the conflict, the bank decision obviously raise serious moral questions. That is the same moral question that Sri Lanka as a country is faced with in responding to the remembrance day on May 18.
This lead to the second question of what is ‘permissible’ – and what is not. That is a tricky question, more so in the context of ethnic polarization and political fragmentation in the country. Suspended employees have defended their action
The third question however is political connotations behind these events. They are no longer a matter of remembering the dead, but, are becoming purveyors of militant Tamil nationalism, the same kind that drove Tamils to Mullivaikkal in the past. The vast majority of victims of the war may desire to keep away from these increasingly polarizing political polemics. However, their politicians, and a microscopic minority of hard core have other calculations. The incendiary speech by Northern Chief Minister C.V.Vigneswaran, in which he announced an annual ‘Tamil genocide day’ on May 18 and called for international intervention is a case in point. Tamil political leadership has historically resorted to loaded language and trumped up grievances.And they were essentially anti-Sri Lankan. From the very beginning of the independence, they set the tone for confrontation: In 1950, much before the much lamented Sinhala Only Act, the Federal Party disowned the Sri Lankan Flag. All that incremental escalation finally metamorphosed into a nihilistic terrorism, which in a twist of fate for its early advocates, pounced on them, before eating two generations of Tamil children.
Chief Minister C.V. Vigneswaran who has fallen out with the TNA leadership is probably plotting to use another generation of Tamils as pawns. He has exploited new relative freedoms to advance his personal political ends.
All that incremental escalation finally metamorphosed into a nihilistic terrorism, which in a twist of fate for its early advocates, pounced on them, before eating two generations of Tamil children
He follows a well-trodden self- destructive path of gradual escalation. He has vindicated the fears of Sinhalese nationalists as to where a compromise would finally lead.
Tamils as a whole would not take stocks of his folly, as it had happened with different brands of charlatans and megalomaniacs in the past, until it is too late to push the reset button.Tamils’ remembrance of their own dead could well be the first casualty of his polarizing approach. But, that may not be the only one, if things are allowed to degenerate.