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Challenges before Sri Lanka
   
 
 
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Challenges before Sri Lanka

 
Friday, 22 May 2009 19:29
 
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by Seema Shekhawat
EPOS Insights

The end of Vellupillai Prabhakaran, the commander of one of the world’s most dreaded terrorist organisations Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) has marked an end of the 26-year-old conflict in Sri Lanka. However, there are manifold challenges that the Sri Lanka government has to confront ranging from rehabilitation to reintegration.Tear drop shaped, beautiful, Indian Ocean island nation is about 19.3 miles off south of Indian coast, separated from India by Gulf of Mannar and Palk Strait.

Known as gateway between South East Asia and the West Asia the unitary, multiethnic and pluralistic state, as per the 2001 census, is inhabited by 20 million people. The Sinhalese comprise about 75 per cent of population and the Hindu Tamils comprise 12 per cent of the population, others being Muslims and Christians. The post-colonial Sri Lanka has never been free from political turmoil. The Tamils have alleged discrimination by the Sinhalese dominated administration. The discontent took a violent turn in early 1980s. The conflict engulfed in its violent form the island nation in 1983 when a section of ethnic minority Tamils under the banner of LTTE began a guerrilla war against the state to carve a sovereign nation out of the Sinhalese dominated island.


The current Sri Lankan episode has raised a basic question that whether diverse aspirations of the constituent elements in a multiethnic, pluralistic state can be accommodated in a consociational model, or is it imperative to grant every separatist claim for independence to have their way? The answers may be diverse but there can be no dispute that conflicts prove to be very costly. Regardless of the motives, violent conflicts are usually disastrous socially as well as culturally; economically as well as politically. Just like elsewhere in the world, the crisis in the island nation characterised as one of the ‘world’s most politically unstable countries’ has brought a trail of death, displacement and destruction for Sri Lanka. Thousands of civilians lost their lives. The LTTE suicide bombers assassinated many prominent political leaders of Sri Lanka. During the period of conflict thousands of people particularly the Tamils had to face repeated displacement several times with disastrous humanitarian consequences. Infrastructure worth million of dollars was destroyed and development took a back seat in the state.

The Sri Lankan crisis took a decisive turn after the incumbent president Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power in 2005. The president vowed to wipe out the LTTE and waged a war against it. The war led to LTTE being wiped out. On the 19 May 2009, the president declared victory. What is more important in the context of his speech is that he also spoke in Tamil language to address the Tamil minority. He stated the defeat of LTTE no way entails the defeat of Tamils in Sri Lanka and thereby made a distinction between LTTE and Tamils that most of the times are mistakenly considered as synonymous. He also admitted the uphill task to accommodate diverse aspirations including the Tamil aspirations. His words however need to be matched with practice. There is an urgency to undertake intensive process with both short and long-term steps the build the war ravaged country aftermath of the routing of the LTTE.

While in the short term the government needs to look after the thousands of the displaced who were caught between the two guns-that of the government and the LTTE for a substantial time and now even after the end of the conflict continue to suffer being huddled together in the government camps without basic facilities. The government itself has admitted that the camps are overcrowded, and in the last days of the war, the UN has estimated further 40,000 -60,000 displaced people were huddled into these camps, particularly in the camp at Manik Farm in Vavuniya. The inability of international humanitarian agencies to reach some of these camps has worsened the situation for these people.

While providing basic amenities to the displaced is an immediate task for the government, it also has to think strategically for the return and rehabilitation of the displaced as well as others who too faced the brunt of the conflict. With large scale destruction of property in the war zone return of the displaced would not be feasible in the near future. Besides, providing the basic infrastructure, employment for youth and aid for the women and children who have lost their sole bread earner to the bullets of either the LTTE or the army are very significant. The government also has to address the large scale cases of post traumatic disorders which many of the affected are suffering from. The government also has to make provisions for the return of the refugees who fled to India due to the conflict.

The real test for the Sri Lanka is how far it is able to accommodate the interests of Tamils in a broader agreeable framework. From this perspective, the return and rehabilitation process has to be followed by daunting tasks of reintegration, reconciliation and reconstruction. The government of Sri Lanka must take immediate steps to redress the genuine grievance of the Tamils. Like many other conflict region the root cause of conflict in Sri Lanka was lack of development – political, economic as well as social – wherein Tamils did not get their due in all spheres. Though there is no commonly agreed definition of development, it can be broadly defined as “a social contract for the public good that can be used pro-actively and consciously so that it becomes a tool of social, economic and political justice and healing”. Studies from conflict-affected areas show that the economic reconstruction contributes positively to long-term political harmony. Thus, sustainable development with a people-centric approach can set the stage for reconciliation and harmony. The theory of “development as freedom” by Amartya Sen (Sen, 1999) argues development and freedom are intimately related. Freedom is both constitutive of development and instrumental to it.

Sen delineates five freedoms that are needed to bring true development:

  • (1) political freedoms;
  • (2) economic facilities;
  • (3) social opportunities;
  • (4) transparency guarantees;
  • (5) protective security. This was very much the case in Sri Lanka, where all kinds of freedoms that are both “means and ends of development”, to use Sen’s terms, were not shared equally by Tamils.

Any failure on part of the government to address the concerns might witness the resurgence of conflict in the country. The implications would be much wider and severe if the popular distress is not addressed in time. Thus, the process of three R’s needs to be made an integral process of Sri Lankan policy making. This would work as a bulwark against violence and precursor of peace.

Last modified on Wednesday, 11 July 2012 14:28
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