Today, the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils is worse than that in the 80s

  • Today, Eelam is heard only in the occasional slogans of a few regional parties like the MDMK, PMK and VCK
  • In public sphere too, the cause doesn’t elicit the response it did a couple of decades ago.
It has been eight years since the Sri Lankan civil war ended the bloody way it began with the demand for an independent Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.

Today, Eelam is heard only in the occasional slogans of a few regional parties like the MDMK, PMK and VCK and some fringe organisations and social media where a few young and restless try to reinvent the romanticism of a lost struggle.

In public sphere, the cause doesn’t elicit the response it did a couple of decades ago. While there is no leadership left in Sri Lanka to take the movement forward, Sri Lankan Tamils — affected in the war — today are more concerned about rehabilitation and livelihood.

The assassinations of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 and 1991 were two vital events that altogether altered the scope of the formation of a Tamil Eelam.

In July 1983, after a series of attacks by Lankan defence forces in Tamil areas of Sri Lanka, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, criticized the Lankan government for the act while expressing solidarity with the Sri Lankan Tamils. The Indira Gandhi government was creating global opinion in favour of an Indian intervention in Sri Lanka, using the Tamil refugee influx as in 1971 that led to the creation of Bangladesh. Besides, militant groups of Sri Lankan Tamils received military and commando training at Indian army camps in South India under the supervision of ex-servicemen.

Indira Gandhi had planned a military intervention in Sri Lanka, ostensibly to create a favourable situation for the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees to return to their country, and provide the Tamil province an independent Eelam government. But, her assassination put paid to such plans.

Indira’s son and political successor Rajiv Gandhi, was not keen on supporting terror or militant groups anywhere. He resolved to bring around such groups to accept a political solution through dialogue. An accord was thought of to resolve the Sri Lankan civil war, Rajiv signed the Indo Sri Lanka Peace Accord with then Lankan president Jayawardene.

The LTTE assassinated Rajiv in May 1991 in Sriperumbudur. The assassination proved to be the second biggest setback for the LTTE and Lankan Tamils. The global war on terrorism began with the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, with the US leading the way. The LTTE’s role in a former Prime Minister’s assassination was the reason why Prabakaran’s call to the world to support a separate Eelam went unheeded. Having decimated other militant groups like the TELO and EPRLF in fratricide, the LTTE was left friendless, exposed to the ruthless machine-like tactics of the Lankan defence forces under Mahinda Rajapaksa.

In hindsight, the LTTE could have accepted the offer of a chief minister under the Indo-Sri Lankan accord and bided time by building its own police, and creating global opinion in favour of a Tamil Eelam. The LTTE missed a golden opportunity then by antagonising India. 

Today, the movement has lost steam. While leaders like Vaiko (MDMK) Thol Thirumavalavan (VCK) and Seeman (NTK) in Tamil Nadu are trying to keep the Eelam pot boiling, the fact remains that there is no Eelam organisation in Sri Lanka now to take the cause forward.

 

What concerns Sri Lankan Tamils the most now is rehabilitation. The implementation of allotment of land/houses to Lankan Tamils — who were affected in the war — is slow. Resettlement proves to be a long drawn-out process, even though the armed forces, as claimed by the Sri Lankan resettlement ministry, have released 70,000 acres of land held by them to the island’s Tamils. Finding a livelihood remains another key issue for the displaced Sri Lankan Tamils including ex-LTTE cadre.

 
 

Today, the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils is worse than that in the 80s – when at least they had nearly five militant groups to guard them against the defence forces. While the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka accord guaranteed them certain benefits and safeguards, today even those promises are beyond their reach. Besides, the decimation of LTTE and its political rivals has pushed back the Eelam movement by at least four decades to the pre-militancy period. It may now take many years for them to regroup and build a defence mechanism for themselves.


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