TamilWeek - Aug 14, 2005
The Barber and the Policeman

By: Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

“ Indru poey , Naalai waa” (Tamil)

“Go today and come back tomorrow” (translation)

(Victorious Rama to a defeated, disarmed and solitary  Ravana in
the battle fields of  Lanka)- -  Kamba  Ramayana

The recent murders in Inuwil of Jayaseelan Shantharuban  (Barber) and Charles
Wijewardene (Superintendent of Police) and how the story has since unfolded will be
recorded in the annals of the Sinhala- Tamil ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka as landmark
incidents.  The events leading to the so- called accidental shooting of Shantharuban
are yet shrouded in mystery. The accidental misfiring of a soldier’s gun while being
handed over to a fellow soldier for safe keeping is the most implausible explanation
among those proffered, which if true, speaks volumes of the quality of training and
professionalism in the Sri Lankan army.  On the other hand the explanations that
Shantharuban was deliberately shot over problems involving illicit liquor and/ or his
spying activities on behalf of the LTTE (D.B.S. Jeyaraj, Tamil Week, 7th Aug’05) or
accidentally shot when a soldier was trying to shoot his superior officer (Deutsche
Presse-Agentur, 5th Aug’05), sound more plausible.  

The killing of Shantharuban, the barber, over the sale of illicit liquor and /or because
he was an LTTE spy is deplorable, if deliberate and pre-meditated. Our sympathies are
with the family of Shantharuban, who have suffered an irreplaceable loss of a young
man in his prime, what ever the precipitating causes may have been.  No human being
deserves to die in this manner, in any civilized society.  The Sri Lankan army should be
condemned in unequivocal terms for this murder, if it was deliberate.  The man should
have been brought to justice and subject to due process, if he stood accused of any
misdemeanor.   If it was a genuine accident, the death was regrettable and the Sri
Lankan army has to review its training and weapon handling procedures as a matter of
priority.  The fact that the Sri Lankan government has expressed regrets and offered
compensation to the family of Shantharuban should be appreciated and welcomed.  
However, it is beholden on the Sri Lankan army and the government to hold an
impartial and honest inquiry in to this incident and prosecute expeditiously the soldiers
involved, if a prima facie case exists against them.  It will be the duty of the Sri Lankan
judiciary to ensure there after that justice is done and it is perceived to be so.

Shantharuban, the human being, was however fortunate in having been taken to
hospital and offered emergency medical care.  He was treated in a manner befitting a
fellow human being. The debate is not about whether he was taken to hospital by the
so-called public (read mob), the LTTE, the police or the army. The fact that there was
an opportunity available for him to be taken to hospital is important. The army, police or
LTTE cadres present at the scene did not hinder this humanitarian gesture in anyway.
It stands to the credit of the Sri Lankan army and police that they permitted
Shantharuban to be taken to hospital, although unfortunately his life could not be
saved.

However, the manner in which Charles Wijewardene, the Superintendent of Police,
Jaffna, was abducted, tortured, mutilated, murdered and thrown on the roadside
deserves the condemnation of every human being, especially the vast majority of the
Tamils who are yet decent folk.  The cowardice, brutality, cunning, inhumanity,
indecency, beastliness and barbarism displayed in this murder will be a blot on all
Tamils, forever.  Killing an unarmed and unguarded Police Officer- although a
Sinhalese and owing allegiance to the Sri Lankan government- who had gone to the
scene of the murder in pursuance of his legitimate duties and to establish peace, was
not acceptable by any standard.   I was personally shocked and appalled at this
loathsome murder and have been irritated and angered at the manner in which the
mainstream Tamil media and the pro-LTTE news organs are portraying it. I am sure
most decent Tamils are feeling the way I do and are frustrated at their impotence in the
face of this unnecessary barbarism and inability to give vent to their feelings.  I take
this opportunity to express my heart felt condolences and regrets to the family of
Charles Wijewardene both on my behalf and on behalf of all the Tamils who feel as I do
and beg their forgiveness for this dastardly crime committed in our name.  Will the
LTTE, if it has even a modicum of humanity left amongst its leadership, come forward
to identify the miscreants involved and subject them publicly to the judicial process that
is now operative in their Ealam? Let us at least belatedly prove to the world that we are
yet a decent, civilized and just people!

The stories of Shantharuban and Charles Wijewardena have far reaching implications
for the Tamils of Sri Lanka, beyond the immediate events.  The moral basis of the
Tamil quest for justice, human rights, equality and democracy within Sri Lanka has
been seriously undermined by the murder of Charles Wijewardene and many others-
Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslims- who have preceded him.  If human life, irrespective of
whose it is, is not respected and valued, calling one self a human being will have no
meaning.  Human civilization is built around this philosophical concept.  War, an
enduring pre-historic phenomenon, is being subject to the constraints of the Geneva
conventions in modern times, in order to humanize an evil we are unable to exorcize.
Being a Tamil involves not only speaking the Tamil language, but also living subject to
a perennial set of time tested lofty values.  The LTTE and its coterie of sycophants and
hangers-on are hell bent on destroying the very fundamentals of the Tamil identity in a
very systematic and determined manner.

Uri Avnery recently (Arab News, 28thJuly’05) wrote with reference to Israelis, “As a 9-
year old I saw with my own eyes the collapse of the German republic.  It was generally
referred to as the Weimar Republic. ---- Since then, the sights and sounds of the
collapse of the republic are engraved in my mind.  The big question that has been
haunting me ever since and which has remained unanswered to this day is: How could
such a thing happen? How could a gang of thugs with an inhuman ideology take over a
state that, in its time, was perhaps the most cultured country in the world?  On the eve
of the Eichman trial, in 1960, I wrote a book on this, concluding with the question: Can it
happen here? Today, there is no escape from this terrible answer: Yes, it can happen
here. If we behave like the people of Weimar, we shall suffer the same fate as the
people of Weimar”.  Is our position as Tamils any different in Sri Lanka today?

Four incidents narrated by Kamban - one of the great Tamil poets- in his version of
Ramayana, which is steeped in Tamil culture and values, are worth recalling. The first
involves the slaying of Vaali, the monkey king who had usurped the Monkey Kingdom
and the queen from his brother Sukreevan, by Rama, to whom Sukreevan had
complained about his misfortunes.  Rama engineers a wrestling match between Vaali
and Sukreevan.   While they were wrestling, the concealed Rama shoots brave Vaali
with his arrow and mortally wounds him.  Before dying, Valli worships Rama, but
questions the cowardly method he had resorted to kill him.  The second involves   
Hanuman, who was sent as a peace emissary to Ravana to request the immediate
release of Sitha.  An arrogant Ravana, while rejecting the call for Sitha’s release, wraps
cloth around Hanuman’s tail and sets fire to it, in contravention of prevailing
conventions governing emissaries.  An enraged Hanuman sets fire to the capital of
Lanka with his burning tail and destroys it. The third refers to Kumbakarna and
Vibhishana, the brothers of Ravana.   During the course of the battles with  Rama’s
army, a  besieged  Ravana  requests his brother  Kumbakarna to lead the war on his
behalf.  The brave, but wise Kumbahrana advises Ravana to let go of Sitha, as her
kidnapping and incarceration were immoral and wrong.   Ravana, calls Kumabakarna
ungrateful and accuses him of being incapable of reciprocating the life long care and
love he had bestowed on him.   A disappointed Kumbaharna agrees to go to battle
saying, “My fate is pushing me in to this battle and death (Vithy piddithu untha
nindrathu- Tamil)” and implores his brother to release Sitha at least after his death.  
Vibhishana at a later date also implores Ravana to release Sitha in order to save
Lanka.  Ravana rejects his advice and calls him a coward.   Vibishana crosses over to
Rama’s side as a result.   The fourth story involves a battle in which Ravana himself
takes part.   His army decimated and he totally disarmed, a dejected Ravana stands
with his head bowed in front of a victorious and fully armed Rama.    Rama tells him, “
Go today and come back tomorrow (Indru poye, Naalai Vaa)”.   

These episodes in Kamban’s Ramayana highlight values in battle that had to be
adhered to even by a Vishnu incarnate like Rama; the respect and safety that had to
be accorded to an unarmed emissary sent by the enemy; democratic values of free
speech and debate that permit Vaali to question Rama and, Kumbakarna and
Vibishana to question Ravana and advice him; magnanimity towards even a helpless
arch enemy that was displayed by Rama; and the consequences when time tested
values are blatantly flouted.  Where are these values in the LTTE and among LTTE
followers today?  Vengeful and mean ‘Tit for tat’ or ‘eye for an eye and tooth for a
tooth’ concepts were never in the ethos of the Tamils or in the religions- Hinduism and
Christianity- they practice.  The LTTE songsters who praise the bravery of the LTTE
cadres, the sacrifice of the suicide bombing ‘ Black Tigers’ and hark back to the days of
Puranaanuru (poetry of the Sangam period) to draw parallels, fail to also point out the
differences in values between the Tigers of today and the Tamil warriors of the past.
They fail to mention that the much spoken of Veera Thaai (brave mother) of the
Sangam poetry who went searching for her son in the battle field, vowing that she will
cut her breasts off if her son was a coward – wounded in the back while running away
from battle- was though sad, proud to find that her son had died facing battle, with a
wound on his chest!  This was the bravery that was cherished, admired, praised and
celebrated in the past.   These were battles conducted between armies away from
where women, children and livestock dwelled.  These were not battles aimed at
helpless civilians and unarmed adversaries! These were not cowardly murders
conducted by pistol gangs and organized mobs against dissenters exercising their birth
right and unarmed men coming to make peace!

I remember a time when the Tamils of Sri Lanka were proud to say that they cannot be
enticed in to mob violence like the Sinhalese.   Where are the values that brought forth
this confidence?   LTTE sponsored and paid for individual and mob violence are
becoming the norm in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka today.  Are the Tamils more prone
to mob violence than they were in a bygone era?  I say no. An overwhelming number of
Tamils yet retain their timeless values.  It is the LTTE and its goons who are creating
the illusion of the violent Tamil and the Tamil mob.  The LTTE and their gangs are
principally responsible for projecting the Tamils of Sri Lanka as terrorists, drug
smugglers, credit card cheaters, thugs, arsonists, callous murderers, extortionists,
kidnappers, child snatchers, welfare cheats, forgers and many other negative stereo
types to the world, in the name of liberating us from Sinhala misrule.  The LTTE that
has the capability to run a trans-national state -contravening international law and
conventions-and impose its will on the Tamil Diaspora to collect funds compulsorily
through strong arm tactics, does not have moral authority to discipline its diehard
supporters who are principally involved in various nefarious activities including
senseless murder around the globe.

Are we Tamils going to continue to be a people who dwell in the past and present, and
are prone to miss the future?  We know where we were and we also know where we are
now.  But do we have an idea where we are going or where we are being taken? It is
time that we snap out of past memories and the spell it has cast on us.   This spell is
being regularly recast by the LTTE to hold us in its thrall.   The Shantharuban- Charles
Wijewardene story is the latest spell that is being cast to keep us bound to memories of
an unpleasant past.  Let us also hoist ourselves out from the quagmire that is our
present.   The peace process presently in total limbo is the quagmire that the Tamils
(and the Sinhalese) are trapped in, due to the machinations of the LTTE and the
shortsighted attitudes of the Sinhala polity.  The LTTE is unwilling to take us out of this
quagmire, even if it is capable of doing so, because it stands to gain as an organization
with military-business- industrial capabilities from a situation where power can be
excised without any legal constraints.  The LTTE stance has also strengthened the
forces within the Sinhala polity opposed to granting the Tamil demands for greater
autonomy and self rule.  The return to war regularly threatened by the LTTE and the
incidents presently being instigated by it to create illusions of an impending war, such
as the murder of Charles Wijewardene, will only sink us deeper in the quagmire.  The
LTTE unilaterally pulled out of the peace talks for reasons that did not merit that
unfortunate move. This was strategically an unforgivable mistake.  The pressure on the
Sinhala polity to deliver a solution was eased as a result.  The LTTE through its
mindless actions has provided the excuses for the Sinhala polity to revert to a state of
blissful somnolence interrupted occasionally by flashes of Sinhala-Buddhist
demagoguery, with reference to the Tamil demands.

The Tamils as a people have to begin looking to a future within Sri Lanka, as opposed
to an independent Tamil Ealam, on account of current international political and
economic realities. The glimpses of what a Tamil Ealam governed by the LTTE would
be, has been painted quite vividly by the LTTE over the past few years.  I do not think
any Tamil in his senses would desire to live in such a Tamil Ealam voluntarily.  This is
an added reason why Tamils have to find solutions to their problems within Sri Lanka.  
The LTTE in the mean time should be forced to demand resumption of the peace talks
with the Sinhala polity immediately. The leading political parties in the Sinhala polity
should be forced to set out in clear terms their contemplated solutions to meet Tamil
demands, ahead of the anticipated presidential elections. The LTTE should be forced
to back track on the policies of violence, kidnapping, murder and extortion that it has
imposed on the Tamils in the name of Tamil Ealam and concentrate on establishing the
due rights of the Tamils within Sri Lanka and in areas under its control and influence.   
The LTTE should be forced to rein in its pistol gangs, other assassins, child snatchers
and agent provocateurs. The LTTE should be forced to permit dissent and pluralism
within the Tamil polity. The LTTE should be stopped from engaging in business
ventures of any nature either overtly or covertly.  The LTTE should be forced to permit
investments in infra structure, human resource development, agriculture and industry
in the Tamil areas without any hindrance.   While every one can appreciate the need
for the LTTE to secure areas under its control from a military perspective, the LTTE
has to be forced to find a way to accommodate the developmental needs of the
people.  

The future for the Tamils within Sri Lanka can be secured primarily by minimizing
economic dependence on the Sinhala polity for employment, livelihood and other
matters that are important to civilized life, provided the LTTE acts sensibly. Contentious
political issues should be handled in parallel with the awareness that these will take
time to resolve given the ‘Drink, Eat and be Merry (Kaappalla, Beepalla, Jollykerapalla)’
attitude and short sightedness of the Sinhala polity.  The present ceasefire should be
exploited to achieve this economic independence for the Tamil areas as quickly as
possible. The morally bankrupt LTTE of today does not seem have the vision, wisdom,
political acumen or capability to lead the Tamils along this path.  It also seems clear the
LTTE has outlived its period of usefulness to the Tamils and instead has become a
major liability.  Its achievements relate to the past, however glorious and necessary
they were at one time. The past is gone, while the future is ahead of us. The Tamil
people have to jettison the LTTE, if it is unable to reform and lead the Tamils in a
democratic, mature, sensible and cultured manner. We Tamils as a people should not
be penalized, castigated or damned in the future for the sins of the LTTE, committed in
our name.   We should demonstrate to the LTTE that we are not a feeble race (recent
speech of Pottu Amman) they assume us to be and have the capacity to stand up for
the values we cherish. The disappointment and disillusionment of the Tamils with the
LTTE, its ways and mores are quite palpable today.   This could become a tidal wave
that will make the LTTE only a brief episode in our long history, unless the LTTE takes
immediate remedial action.
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