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Tamils

image from JDS Lanka

image from JDS Lanka

The Pax Rajapakse is almost four years old. In that time I’ve gone from being a relative tortoise in my own country to having a degree of freedom that I never imagined possible. I’ve traveled now to virtually every place formerly torn up by the war. And can travel anywhere else I please should I wish to do so.

But the Pax Rajapakse is just that, peace. It has no moral identity. It has no moral pretensions even though it likes to pretend otherwise. Dreadful things are done to preserve the peace. But in all objectivity some might say that the end justifies the means. Peace is its own reason.

But a once universal peace is now fragmenting into varying degrees of peace; different categories of peace now exist. There is a lesser peace and a greater peace. The greater peace is being able to move around your country with freedom, the lesser peace is demarcated by invisible lines drawn through society with labels saying things like ‘Do Not Cross’, ‘Trespassers Will Be Shot’ and  ‘Sycophants Only’.

The country, as it strains under the forces of development, churns society like the roiling Indian Ocean and casts up new oppressed classes and facilitates the surge of new elite. Apparently there is ‘good’ corruption and ‘bad’ corruption. So say some, justifying the regime’s steamroller approach to progress with a substantial personal cut. But where is the line, I say?

While people leave on boats, and put up with heavy abuse for want of jobs and are kicked out of their homes to make way for high rises in the midst of Colombo; a whole new class of wealthy and powerful Sri Lankan is emerging. Closely connected to the country’s powerbrokers, they wield high influence that cuts through social and legal infrastructure like butter. Any justice is we have here is highly skewed in the favor of these elites.

All this has not gone unnoticed. The people are restless and feeling the brunt of ever increasing cost of livingn. Straight talking journalists are still in danger. And the briefly stable peace is now crumbling at the edges with this latest drive of racism. The people are hungry for something to blame. A few decades ago it was the Tamils, and now it is the Muslims. 

But peace is profitable, war is not. And the last thing the government needs is another conflict. And therein lies the problem. Sri Lanka is a corrupt animal. This corruption is like a cancer, but it can still grow within it. Most forecasts still place our economy with prospects of around 6-7% of GDP growth per annum. On a global scale this is huge. This means we double every ten years or so. And if we’re patient enough and do not over reach, we can still become a rich country in our own time.

There are however, serious glitches that can ruin everything. Since Sri Lanka stopped being a low income country, it has stopped receiving aid which basically allowed us to spend more than we earned without worry. And over the years a strong parasitic class developed that benefited and prospered from this surplus, the result; a bloated state sector, crazy inefficiency and high levels of corruption. And now it is this transition from being aid dependent that is really killing us.

Finding itself forced to cover up its various deficits (budget and current account) by taking loans, Sri Lanka is realizing (I hope) that it is mixing a recipe for disaster. We need solid foreign investments to replace these loans and they will not come in until the political, and by extension business, environment is made investor friendly; until budget gaps are sorted out sustainably;  until capital expenditure is focused on projects with long term benefits like education, infrastructure and health.

Currently the government is trying to cover its behind by putting the burden on the public. It should be cutting dead weight and increasing its efficiency by turning state corporations (like the cash bleeding CPC and CEB) profitable, instead it is reducing much needed public expenditure and increasing prices of essential goods and utilities. This burden on the public, ever increasing with the latest round of fuel price hikes, is what is contributing to unrest. There is a continuing laxity in addressing post war issues, and fiascos like the Expropriation Bill and the impeachment of the Chief Justice are poorly handled and reflect very badly internationally.

The Rajapakse regime still has my support. Most East Asian giants grew up under pseudo democracies; Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. And the fact that we lack a better alternative has never been more obvious in the light of the UNP’s recent feeble opportunism in attempting to capitalize on racist propaganda. The Rajapakse’s have huge potential to bring something the country has not had for a long time; political stability and long term growth. But they cannot do this by cultivating a parasitic social sub-strata of sycophants and dependents.

Hidden agenda lurks behind this fresh wave of racism, trying to distract from pressing issues at hand. What we should be doing is figuring out the real problems and then campaign for reform, especially with the limitations of our reality in mind. This is undoubtedly hard to do in the current context; the corruption is the cancer and it is within all of us, if you will permit me a bit of drama. If the Rajapakse regime had a big role to play in creating the pax, average Sri Lankans have an even bigger role to play in keeping it.

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Quite enjoyed Vedi, which i had the pleasure of watching on a recent bus ride to Jaffna.

Tamil movies capture the imaginations of millions, and completely command the attitudes of a good chunk of them. A certain segment of Tamil movie fans will swear by their favorite movie stars. To them this shit is real. And this is evidenced by the large proportion of actors who become very successful politicians in Tamil Nadu.

In Sri Lanka growing up in a Muslim household with plenty of uncles who were fans of the likes of Rajni KanthMGR (who was born in my hometown) and Sivaji I had somewhat of an early exposure. I never developed into a frenzied fanboy because my extended family was probably much saner by the time I was born. But walk along Galle Face on any evening and chances are you’ll see plenty of guys wearing Kolaveri Di t-shirts and denim jackets or busting the latest Danush and Suriya dance moves on the pavements, while music blares from parked vans with open doors and loud sound systems. Tamil movies are getting bigger. And continue to penetrate the zeitgeist here. A part of a global phenomenon of Indian ‘soft power’ making strong inroads into global culture.

Actors who play heroes appeal to masses because they idealize perfection on screen, or so goes my theory. They’re always honorable, powerful and love the poor. And so the poor love them. Tamil movies are never complete without a despicable villain; evil and convoluted as much as the hero is honorable and upright. It is always black versus white, good versus evil.

The villain isn’t villaining for business. He’s in business purely for the villaining. He is intelligent but too confident, loud and brash, and reveals the full extent of his evil plans in fierce monologues often overheard by a lowly minion or his long suffering mother. Always displaying some suitably spine tingling idiosyncrasy, he will either fling his shirt collar back in a manner that reveals an acre of chest hair, walk with a swagger so pronounced he is practically turning sideways at every step, or if he is old and ugly which he often is, will have a uniquely spine chilling sound affect play every time he enigmatically breathes out his cigar smoke.

The villain and his muscles-for-brains goons carry out their unbroken assault on society; raping, stealing and kicking dogs, all the time laughing at some rich private joke that no one else understands. They are mean and petty, brutally cruel. But their spree of glee ends when they finally mess with the wrong guy. Usually by messing with the wrong girl. And the hero, awakened from his humble, everyday-Tamilian stupor by a maddening righteous anger, rises to spell doom and gloom to all villainy, everywhere.

But before the villain can meet the hero, whom he always underestimates, in the final battle; several important events must take place. There is, for instance, the small matter of the chemistry between the hero and the heroine that must bubble with an acidic fervor. When locked in their haphazard game of a thousand flirtations, they must dance along at least a dozen different beaches, alpine mountain ranges, and botanical gardens and develop the skill of surreptitiously changing costumes in the few seconds when the camera pans to the horizon. Random strangers and distant acquaintances in marketplaces, college campuses, night clubs and ‘autorickshaw’ stands must suddenly develop remarkable skills of coordination as they dance along in tandem to music that apparently plays out of speakers hidden in barrels and fruit baskets.

Heroes in tamil movies have full scale symphony orchestras following them around with different tunes for every on screen emotion, innovative punch, kick and every cleverly executed pun. Of course there are separate actors who specialize in comic relief. But they don’t have it so well in terms of physical prowess or sexual prospects. Their orchestra comprises of random pings, poinnggs and other scraping noises to complement their varied failings and faux pas as they bravely attempt to aid the hero in his struggle against his personal Goliath. These actors tend to be a few in number and can often be seen in the same role in countless movies. Vadivelu for instance has been around for as long as I can remember and is quite the powerbroker now I hear.

With roughly 65 million moviegoers in India, 12 million Indian Tamils abroad and countless other Tamil speakers in Sri Lanka including Muslims, Tamil films enjoy a bigger market than the UK cinema industry. In Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh (which makes films in Telugu – 75mn people), India’s biggest movie industries outside of Bollywood, popular films are more recognisably ‘about’ local culture and exhibit a close relationship between film and politics. Fanclubs will often morph into political organizations as a particular actor decides to become a hero in real life (I.e politician). Actors become politicians and fail to do anything helpful sparking the need for more actors to become politicians in order to replace them. A neat vicious cycle.

Of course not all Tamil movies are so stereotypical and transparent. Many movies, even those of the cornier variety show a high level of political and social awareness. Their heroes wouldn’t appeal to the masses otherwise. But some movies do stand out as masterpieces all on their own. A real fan would rattle off many. To me right now Mani Ratnam‘s Roja and Bombay come to mind.

In terms of entertainment, they are pretty good when they get the formula right. Pretty much like any movie industry.

Makes this shocking accusation

By establishing a civil administration with its military personnel, under the guise of reconstruction and development the Government is attempting to change the demography of Tamil homelands in favour of the majority Sinhala population.

Like you mean, replace all the Tamils in there with Sinhalese? Or ensure that the 300,000 soldiers we have in the army settle down and marry into the Tamil population there and keep their crotch rockets firing long enough to out-reproduce the Tamils? Or are they planning vast re-movements of the population, moving in people from the South to dilute the concentration of Tamils in one place?

This has a more chilling note;

The Sri Lankan Government is also moving forward with schemes that will disable the socio-economic infrastructure of the Tamil people from being self reliant as one that would be controlled and made dependent on Sri Lanka’s South.

What he’s trying to say perhaps, is that the government is trying to proactively restrict economic development in the North. By presumably denying opportunities for the North to prosper socio-economically in its own right through strong industries like tourism, trade and manufacturing.

This is unlikely because if the government were to do this, it would cripple and hold back the whole nation. The North-Eastern areas offer tremendous resources and capability for serious development.

If he is implying that the government, through the imposition of ownership rights and discriminatory laws, will deny the North-Eastern population ownership, property, entreprenurial and cultural rights then this gets more serious. But aside from being completely impractical if the goal is actual development, there is absolutely no evidence that this is going to happen.

KP seems all excited about his new venture

In this advanced cyber era I soon realised that it was possible (sharing of opinions) through a blog posting. This is why have I chosen to out to you using this method.

But he can at least make sense. And have credible statements to back up his claims.

So whats the relationship? Does oppression necessarily result in fundamentalism? This is a theme explored in a book i’m reading right now. As per the authors and evidence put forward there is a clear correlation between the rising of fundamentalist groups and the opression of those classes of a society.

This is plainly obvious generally, one has just got to look at numerous examples all over the world like the Uighurs, the Iraquis, Hezbollah, Christian fundamentalists in the US and not to put too fine a point on it; the LTTE.

Tamils in Sri Lanka are still, if not opressed, a very restricted group in terms of movement in society. Take their representation in the government and public sector for instance, this has spiralled down at an alarming rate since the de-nationalization of the Tamil language since 1956; an act seen by many Tamils as aimed at disowning the Tamil speaking population from Sri Lanka.

Now there is only scant representation of Tamil youth in Sri Lankan governance and none of it can be called particularly strong. Older and more powerful tamil politicians are few and far between.

Language is a major issue here. Its almost impossible to get anything done at most public services if you cannot communicate in Sinhalese or perhaps English. This arguably, is one of the first issues that needs to be addressed, along with the issue of the devolution_of power. (TEDx Colombo will be hosting a talk by Dr. Rohan Samarajiva on language policy for the future, this weekend.)

More power to provincial governments will give them incentive to serve the local population. In turn giving more power to voters in deciding who they want to take office. These are but some of the changes brought on by the 13th ammendment and its many modifications aimed at promoting diversity rather than supressing it; which has seemed to be the general overall trend of politics since independence from the Brits.

Barriers to devolution like strong vested interest in the Executive Presidency continue to bar progress. the EP is almost a tyrannical representation of everything wrong with the current system of governance to some; above the law, all powerful, unquestionable. It throws the concept of a government that ‘serves the public’ right out the kitchen window.

Change is needed, and it is needed now. Opression at this point will only create outlet to more fundamentalism and resentment among the unfairly treated. The LTTE is down, but not completely out. They still have support from the diaspora who burn from the wounds suffered a long time ago.

If the government avoids making serious long term policy changes to secure equality and yeilds to the easy way out and decides to rule the country with an iron fist-like approach by supressing dissent; perhaps it wouldn’t not that far fetched to imagine a re-emeregence of the LTTE or some other similar group in the next few decades, if they manage to raise enough grassroots level support from a group of people that feels ‘left out’ of Sri Lankan society.

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