In the absence of decennial Census in the war areas since 1971, even this year’s head-count of the living is bound to kick off a controversy, when final figures are made available. There is all-round acknowledgement of large-scale migration of Tamils from the North and the East to the rest of the country, and outside, too. In the latter case, the number of Sri Lankan citizens in the refugee camps in the south Indian State of Tamil Nadu alone could be ascertained with a great degree of finality.
There is an end-argument that a majority of the Colombo citizenry are Tamil-speaking, comprising Muslims, Upcountry Tamils and Sri Lankan Tamils. It is also used to further a relative argument that like the Tamils from the North and the East migrating to Colombo and elsewhere in the country, the Sinhalas and others should have freedom of establishing themselves in the traditional Tamil areas.
Barring those in the refugee camps in India, there are no verifiable figures of Diaspora Tamils in other countries. In the weeks and months immediately after the conclusion of war, there were unspecified and equally unsubstantiated complaints about inmates of IDP camps being helped / encouraged to go overseas on fake documents. For now, there is a general acceptance of the Election Commission’s figures on the reduced number of voters in the war areas, based on a post-war verification. In Jaffna, the numbers have come down by half.
All this are in the future. For now, the number of dead is a more serious a political issue than those living. It is doubtful if the LLRC Report, submitted to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, would have offered any clue. The more recent announcement of Army chief, Lt-Gen Jagath Jayasuriya, about a tri-Service team looking into the matter could be expected to support the Government’s perceptions and claims in the matter -- existing are those emerging through the LLRC and beyond.
The goal of ‘zero-casualty’ war in civilian terms was not expected to be achieved to the ‘t’. The Government refused to acknowledge that even ‘humanitarian operations’ of the kind and way it had launched could come with its own casualty figures. The freedom that the armed forces obtained for 300,000 Tamil human-shields from the clutches of the LTTE would have been proof enough of their modus, motives and motivation. Claiming what was palpably unachievable in war-time was at the bottom of the current mess.
By going into a ‘denial mode’ through and through, the Government got caught on the wrong foot. As with predecessor Governments, it fed the perception that this one too was shifting its goal-post and changing the rules. At times of war, it is strategy. In times of peace, tiring out the other side is dubbed Goebbellism. It cost the LTTE dearly.
The tactic could cost the Tamils even more, thanks to the continued deployment of the tactic by sections of the Tamil Diaspora. The inadequate Tamil support that successive ‘Heroes’ Day’ observances have had in ‘more democratic’ West should be an eye-opener. It should be so also for the host governments.
This game has to end, or at least low-keyed, if the Government and the TNA have to take up serious issues of political solution, seriously. There are more serious demands of the Tamils that need to be addressed. There are more genuine Government efforts that need to be appreciated in rehabilitation and reconstruction, both of the individual and the infrastructure. This has to include the institutions before it became too late.
In more than one way, the seriousness with which both sides, particularly the State actor, take the political negotiations and solution forward, could provide the breather , for now, and possibly forever. Handing over HSZ property to genuine owners even while retaining need-based army camps across the country, including Tamil areas, could go a long way in building mutual trust not only between the Tamils and the Government but also between the Tamils and the armed forces.