TamilWeek Aug 20, 2006

By: Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

Liberation’ (Viduthalai in Tamil and Vimukthi in Sinhalese)
has come to mean many things to many Tamils of Sri Lanka.
What the word means to any individual or a group of people
under normal circumstances, will depend on what they need
to be liberated from. At the level of an individual, liberation
may be sought from ignorance, foolishness, poverty, disease,
anger, bigotry, ego, arrogance, karmic cycles of birth and
death, etc. The cultural background and religious beliefs,
social and economic conditions, and political inclinations (e.
g., communist vs. capitalist) will determine the type of
liberation being sought by a group of people. The liberation
sought can be of a single dimension or multiple dimensions.
Within the context of a larger struggle for liberation such as
ours, several sub-struggles may take place. There can be
simultaneously a struggle by the so-called low castes to be
liberated from the oppression of the so-called higher castes,
a struggle by women to be liberated from their traditional
roles in society and the struggle of the have-nots to be
liberated from want. Liberation is a struggle that has to
continuously take place within a free people, to overthrow a
past that has become a burden (Dreary desert of dead habit-
Tagore) and achieve a future that is promising. Liberation is
needed to over throw oppression and oppression can be of
varying intensities. Only a free people can seek liberation.
Slaves will never be able to seek liberation. They have to
seek freedom first. To most people living in the trouble prone
areas of Sri Lanka, especially for those living in the North-
East, the Tamil liberation struggle has come to signify only
liberation from life- death.

Freedom (Suthanthiram in Tamil and Nidhas in Sinhala) and
liberation are frequently understood to mean the same by
many, and this is understandable. However, they are
different. A people can have freedom, while not being
liberated. But they cannot be liberated, while not having
freedom. The differences are subtle but profound. We gained
‘Freedom’ from the British, but subsequently sought to be
‘Liberated’ from the Sinhalese. By extension we were not
‘Free’ during colonial rule and were not ‘Oppressed’; and
have been ‘Free’ in the post-independence era, but claim to
be ‘Oppressed’. This is rather contradictory. If we did not
have freedom during the colonial era, we could not have
been without oppression. We have equated the greater
material opportunities available to us during the colonial era,
with a lack of oppression. We were enticed with economic
incentives to learn English, Latin and Greek, and to call the
Tamil language teachers, ’Vernacular teachers’. We were
ready to become ‘Little Englishmen’ and mimic their ways. We
were taught to look down on our language and culture. Our
elite were proud they were more fluent and conversant in
English than in Tamil. Tamil became a language to be spoken
with servants and those below their station in life, for our elite.

However, we prospered as a minority within the country. True,
no one let loose thugs and the armed forces on us during the
British colonial era and wreaked havoc in our lives. This was
because we were an obedient, pliant people basking in the
colonial sunlight! We were enjoying the rights of good slaves,
because we were obedient, hard working and mendacious!
We never challenged their right to rule and enslave us. We
were made to become different and what we were not, by
various tools the British expertly used. We were the fish the
British expertly hooked with attractive bait. However, we were
neither free nor liberated. A hooked fish can swim to the limits
of the line and may think it is yet swimming. However, the
truth is that it is yet hooked and can be hauled out of water
any time to die. This situation can also be compared to a gold
fish kept in a fish bowl. It is fed once or twice a day. The bowl
is cleaned regularly and new water provided. The gold fish
looks fat, sleek and healthy. But is it free? Is it not
oppressed? Can it go where it wants and eat what it wants?
Can it seek a mate it wants? This was our life during the
‘Golden era’ of colonialism, when we think we thrived and
prospered. There were limits to what we could do and aspire
to. We were not free to seek what we needed. We were set
on a particular course that met the needs of the British. We
accepted this without protest and mistook it for ultimate bliss.

We did not also use the freedom, independence from the
British provided, to seek a new and different future. We
wanted the status-quo to continue in all aspects of our lives.
We wanted to continue being the fish on the hook or the gold
fish in the bowl. We did not know where we wanted to go and
did not have the leaders with vision to tell us where we should
go. While the rest of Sri Lanka was awakening to new vistas
that independence provided and sought to exploit it to their
benefit, we were caught in a time warp and craved for a past
that was no more. We were not a dynamic community seeking
to liberate ourselves from a colonial past and seek a modern
future. The colonization schemes, Sinhala only blitz,
standardization of marks for admission to the universities,
nationalization programs and constitutional experiments of
the Sinhala polity were part of the attempts to assert their
independence and identity, however mistaken, mischievous,
misguided, malicious and short sighted these acts were from
a national point of view. The two JVP (Janatha Vimukthi
Peramuna- Peoples Liberation Movement) armed revolts
were directed at the failures of the ruling establishment. The
JVP had a vision different from that of the ruling
establishment for Sri Lanka and the Sinhala people. The
established system and the nature of politics in Sri Lanka left
no room for democratic dissent, discussion and enlightened
decision making, even among the Sinhala majority. The JVP
revolts although largely founded on reasonable grievances,
failed because they were carried out in the wrong way and
over stepped acceptable norms. The tactics adopted by the
JVP were wrong and not consonant with the cultural and
religious ethos of the Sinhala people. Although the Sinhala
people were sympathetic to the grievances articulated by the
JVP, they did not accept the violent methods used. Hence,
these revolts did not resonate with the vast majority of the
people. This gave the opportunity for the establishment to
mercilessly crush both revolts and continue in the ways it was
wont to. The Sri Lankan ruling establishment, dominated by
the Sinhalese, has reacted in the same way to the JVP revolts
and the Tamil militancy- brutally, short-sightedly, insensitively
and unwisely, without any attempt to resolve the underlying
causes. The JVP has now re-invented itself as a regular
political party in the conventional Sri Lankan mould and has
become an important share holder in the very establishment
it revolted against!

Subramanya Bharathy (Bharathiyar) in his song titled
‘Viduthalai (Liberation)’ celebrates the liberation that will be
achieved by people belonging to various castes who were
oppressed within Indian society, on gaining freedom from the

“Viduathali, viduthalai, viduthalai,

Parayarukkum, ingu theeya pulayarukkum viduthalai,

Maravarodu, kuravarukkum-----etc.,”

He also asks a rhetorical question, “Whether those seeking a
‘Brave Freedom’ (Veera Suthanthiram) will think of anything
else?” elsewhere in his poetry. The subtle distinction between
freedom and liberation has been enunciated beautifully by
Bharathiyar. Where as the following lines from a Saivite hymn
widely known to Hindu Tamils, combines the concepts of
liberation, freedom and courage, into a composite whole, and
underlines a different dimension of thought that influenced
the lives of Tamils.

“Naam Yaarkum Kudiyallaum-

Namanai Anjaum,

Narahathil Idapadaum, ----

We are not anyone’s slaves,

Will not fear even Yama (The God of death) and,

Will not be condemned to Hell---- (Translation).

Not being anyone’s slave is freedom and not having to fear
even Yama, is liberation! Refusing to be condemned to hell is
courage indeed! Where do we Tamils now stand in the
context of these thoughts that have permeated our lives, from
childhood? We have a cultural and religious heritage that
behooves us to do what is ‘Right’ (Aram- Tamil), while
standing up courageously for freedom and liberation. We
have lost our way some how. We are overwhelmed by fear of
every kind imaginable, have lost our freedom to do what is
‘Right ‘ and have pliantly accepted ‘Hell’ as a lifestyle.

Yes, we have been misgoverned by the Sinhala majority in Sri
Lanka. They were definitely not ‘Right’. We had the right to
resist and revolt against mis-government. We had the right to
demand liberation from the oppression of mis-governance.
We had the right to fight back when thugs and the armed
forces were let loose on us. We had the right to demand that
we be permitted to manage our own affairs. We had also the
right to demand a separate state, if a majority of us thought
that was a solution to our problems. The freedom to do all
these things was our birth right, in independent Sri Lanka.
However, these rights should have been exercised within the
context of what is ‘RIGHT (ARAM)’. We have miserably failed
to do so and are presently paying a rather heavy price for
this folly. We made a Faustian bargain with the devil and
have become the victims of this deal. We forsook what was
‘Right’ and permitted our lives to be directed by what is
‘Wrong’. This is where we have failed. Mahatma Gandhi and
a majority of the Indians did not make a Faustian bargain with
the devil when they sought freedom for India, nor did Nelson
Mandela and his people in South Africa, when they wanted
freedom from white rule and liberation from apartheid. They
were great leaders and a great people. What are we?

We are at present keeping score of the dead like in a
sporting event, in a macabre fashion, with no end in sight for
the match. We itch to start a war and do everything possible
to instigate one. Thereafter, if we kill more than the armed
forces in any one day, we cheer. If the armed forces kill more
of us, we cry foul. We have ceased to value human life and
are not appalled at the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of
thousands of innocent men, women and children in what is
increasingly becoming a futile war. Deaths have become the
measure of success and failure in our liberation struggle. In
success, which means that ‘Others’ have died more, we claim
a trophy and seek monetary rewards, from those who support
us. In failure, which would obviously involve more Tamil
deaths, these deaths become our ‘Beggar’s wound’, to attract
more support and money. Our liberation struggle has become
a successful money spinning operation in both success and
failure, involving principally death! What have we achieved
other than death, misery and destruction for all people in Sri
Lanka, including us Tamils, through our liberation struggle of
twenty five years ? We kill fellow-Tamils and our natural
allies- the Tamil speaking Muslims, without any compunction,
in the name of liberation. We kill and are ready to kill any
Sinhalese, as a perceived enemy. It is to be noted that more
Tamils have died and have become destitute since the
advent of this liberation struggle, than our perceived
enemies! We have become degenerate and cruel to an
extent that it is becoming shameful to be identified as a Sri
Lankan Tamil. What is ‘Right’ is ‘Might’ and this is a lesson we
never learned, and probably will never learn, considering
what we have become and the type of leaders we have

From a religious angle, as Hindus we want to be liberated
from the karmic cycle of birth and death to attain union with
the ‘Supreme or Universal Spirit’, we call God. This would
require that we follow a path of ‘Aram’. The first thing taught
to Tamil child with the first alphabet ‘Aana’ in Tamil is,

‘Aram Seiya Virumbu’-Auvaiyar

(Desire to do what is ‘Right’-Translation).

The word ‘Aram’ has been beautifully defined by
Thiruvalluvar in the following couplets:

“Allukkaru, Avaa, Vehuli, Innaachol- Ivai Naankum,

Illukkaa Iyandrathu Aram”

A life lived free of evil thoughts, excessive desire, anger&
unpleasant words is Aram-(Translation).

“Aran Enapaduwathu Yaathenil- Yaathondrum,

Theemai Illathu Seyal”

Aram is when your actions are absolutely harmless

“Maranthum Piran Khedhu Seiyatka-Seiyin,

Aram Soolum Soolthavan Khedu”

Aram will punish those who even unconsciously contemplate
harming others (Translation).

“ Aravinai Yaathenil Khollaamai-Koeril,

Pira Vinnai Ellaam Tharum”

Not killing is an act of Aram. Killing brings in its wake a
multitude of bad results (Translation).

“Aravaali Anthanan Thaal Serntharku Allaal-Pirravaali,

Neenthal Arithu”

Unless one surrenders at the feet of the ‘One who is the
epitome of Aram (God)’,

It will be very difficult to cross the sea of life (Translation).

The God we worship is one who is ‘Absolutely Right’ and to
seek union with Him-Her, and escape the cycles of birth and
death, we have to do what is ‘Right’. This is the essence of
our religious beliefs as Saivite Hindus. Thiruvalluvar once
again says:

“Piravi Perum Kadal Neenthuvar- Neenthar,

Iraivan Adi Serrathaar”

Those who will be able to cross the ocean of birth and death
are those who have surrendered at the feet of God. Those
who fail will not be able to swim (Translation).

Thiruvallur, with the brevity, clarity and wisdom he is admired
for, has defined for us unequivocally what ‘Right’ is and who
the God, the majority of us believe in and worship, is. What is
the point in visiting temples, breaking coconuts, pouring
gallons of milk, offering flowers and performing other rituals,
in our despair, if we fail to understand these basic precepts?
If we define our God as being ‘Right’, we have to seek a path
that is ‘Right’ in all our endeavours, including our liberation
struggle. Rituals, poojas, archanas or yagas will not absolve
us of our sins, if we continue on the path we are. This is the
reason even God has failed us in our hours of need, despite
our anguished cries to high heaven. We have the right cause
and absolutely reasonable grievances. However, we have
taken the wrong path, absolutely alien to our cultural and
religious ethos, in search of remedies. We have been force
marched on the wrong path by leaders who have imposed
themselves on us, at gun point. Accepting such men and
women as our leaders was our fault. However, I doubt
whether we have the guts and courage to tell them to get lost!

Killing innocent people is wrong. Killing unarmed opponents is
wrong. Killing people, only because they disagree is wrong.
Killing people because they are different from us is wrong.
Suicide bombing is wrong. Sending innocent children into war
is wrong. Mass murder is wrong. Exposing innocent civilians-
men, women and children, to death is wrong. Cycle bombs
are wrong. Trishaw bombs are wrong. Claymore mines are
wrong. Encouraging other people and other people’s children
to die, while resorting to all sorts of devices to keep
ourselves, our children and our kin safe, is wrong.
Brainwashing children is wrong. Raising orphaned children as
suicide bombers and cannon fodder is wrong. Falsehood to
seek favourable publicity is wrong. Intimidating the press with
the threat of death is wrong. Kidnapping is wrong. Extortion is
wrong. Bribery is wrong. Coveting other people’s property is
wrong. Forcing a people to tow a line they do not accept, at
gun point, is wrong. Pedaling narcotics is wrong. Cheating in
any form is wrong. Lying is wrong. Character assassination of
those who dissent is wrong. Blackmail is wrong. Thuggery is
wrong. The inclusion of crooks, thugs, rowdies, cads, cheats
and bullies, hooligans, criminals, murderers and ignoramuses
at various levels of the liberation movements is wrong. All
these and more have come to characterize our liberation
struggle. There are good, dedicated and idealistic men in the
liberation struggle, but they are the minority at the levels that
matter, and seldom heard. The noticeable fact is that our
liberation struggle has become the last refuge of many
rascals! There is no doubt that a large numbers of our sons
and daughters, and brothers and sisters have been brave in
battle and have sacrificed their lives for us. This was right
and this was great. They have to be remembered and
honoured by every Tamil. However, their idealism, bravery
and sacrifice have been tarnished beyond redeem by the
wrongs that have overtaken our liberation struggle. In the
final count they may have fought and died in vain. We have
killed everything that was ‘Right’ in our struggle and
enthroned everything that is ‘Wrong’!

The task at hand now is to regain the freedom we have
unwittingly lost to forces of evil. This freedom has to be
regained, if we are to liberate ourselves from mis-rule in Sri
Lanka. We are not a free people anymore. We are living in
fear of our lives. We have become the slaves of cruel
masters. We are told what to do and how to comply. We are
told what to think. We are told when our children can learn
and when not. We are killed, if we disagree. We are being
killed and are killing others in a war that a majority of us do
not want. We have become a nation of refugees and are
trying to make others also suffer the same fate. The list is
endless and even the slaves of yore would pity us.

How can we think of liberation, when we have lost our
freedom? Our struggle has to return to the right path and be
consonant with our culture and religious ethos, if it is to bear
fruit. We have to overthrow the oppression that has
overwhelmed us and demand the rights to life and livelihood,
before we start talking about and fighting for the other
niceties of human life, such as our political and citizenship
rights. The Sinhalese did not take away our freedom. We
never demanded freedom from the Sinhalese. Our struggle
was to liberate ourselves from the mis-rule of the Sinhala
ruling establishment. We have lost our freedom through our
own idiocy. Once we regain our freedom, let us fight for our
liberation from Sinhala mis-rule, in the right way. The right
way need not be always passive. We have the right to fight
with guns, if we have no other alternatives. However, let us do
so the right way, adhering to civilized and acceptable norms.
Let us not sacrifice our lives, our humanity and our money, at
the ‘Alter’ of a liberation struggle that has lost its soul long
ago and has become a personification of evil. The wrongs the
Sinhalese, the Sinhala polity and the Sri Lankan government
are accused of are not a reason or rationale for us to do
wrong. I hope what I have been saying for a long time and
have said here will make sense to the Tamils of Sri Lanka,
where ever they may live, who yet believe in an Almighty God
and whose mercy they desperately seek in various ways.