Thursday, 24 March 2011

The shape of the “Muslim nation” in the East –reminiscence (Part2)

"Oluvil Declaration” followed by “ Mutur Declaration” in August 2006 , where the Federation All Mosques in the Eastern province staged a protest in Kalmunai against the LTTE for their attack , expulsion and killings of the Muslims in Muttur and Thopur. In or about August 2006, Mutur and Thopur were surrounded by the LTTE and people were expelled from the entire villages in resemblance to the expulsion of the Northern Muslims by the LTTE in 1990.-

by S.M.M.Bazeer

“Bring your quarrels to halt
Which is full of daring talks
My task has come to an end
Go fast; Yours is ahead."
M.H.M.Ashroff (“You The I “– “Naan Enum Nee”)

Tamil Muslim Homeland Theory

(April 28, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Thimpu talks in 1985 provided an opportunity for the six Tamil organizations to put forward the “Tamil homeland” principle as one of their basic principles of proposals for a political settlement and the absence of any Muslim organization or political parties that were conscious of and or insisting on the Muslim’s political aspiration in the North and the East, facilitated the Sri Lankan Government, Tamil militant organizations and the Indian Government to ignore the Muslim factor in their “homeland” negotiations.. Around the time in April 1985, Ashroff’s Muslim United Front had become disbanded and Ashroff relocated to Colombo.

The architects of the Thimpu principles totally ignored the second majority people of the North and the East and simply worded them as “The Tamils”. The Thimpu principles have become obsolete over the years due to changes in the political landscape and the Tamil identity has now entered a phase of wider definitions in the last two decades.

(a) recognition of a separate national identity of the Tamils,
(b) respect for the integrity of the traditional Tamil homeland,
(c) recognition of the right to self-determination for the Tamils, and
(d) citizenship rights for all Tamils who have chosen to make Sri Lanka their home.

The Wikipedia definition for homeland is comprehensive and encompasses the recent development of Homeland concept which is redefined in the USA after the 11th September. The recent interpretation of Homeland does not negate the meaning that has been long accepted by the international community. Homeland has a narrow meaning of a region within a country where there is an ethnic group holds a long history and a deep cultural association. However it “connotes the country of own origin”. Homeland is also used for the Tamil word “Thayagam”. In Tamil “Thayagam” means motherland.

In short, Homeland is not only a state but also a region or territory that is closely identified with a particular people or ethnic group. The Apartheid regime in South Africa or Russia “motherland” had territorial state within the state, thus giving a broader meaning to the homeland theory. If we interpret this, in terms of the definition of Homeland, the Tamils and Muslims of the North and East may claim that it is their homeland or “ Thayagam”. After independence, the majority of Tamil politicos in the North and the East ignored the Muslim claim to their distinctive identity and forced upon them a common Identity that they were “Tamil Speaking people”.

The emergence of the SLMC as apolitical party and its own provincial council claim technically challenged the basis of the historical claim of the Tamil Homeland theory. Around this time M.I.M.Mohideen formed the Muslim United Liberation Front (MULF), a new Muslim Political party against the SLMC on the 8th of April 1988 and staged a hartal in Batticaloa against the killings of Muslims in the Batticaloa District. Some prominent members of the MULF went to Chennai to have talks with the LTTE. The other Tamil groups were ignored by the MULF delegation, which was under the leadership of Dr.Badiudeen Mahmood. An agreement was reached between Dr.Badiudeen and Krishnakumar nom de guerre Kittu on 21st of April 1988 (Twenty years ago). As far as the MULF were concerned, their main aim was to have political mileage over the SLMC. However the LTTE’s aim was to reassure the territorial integrity of the Tamil homeland against the SLMC’s claim for Muslim Provincial council. The agreement acknowledged that the Muslim people also have their homeland within the North and East. This agreement was signed a couple of months before the Provincial council elections as a truce to hoodwink the Muslim community.

* The Muslim people believe that their interests could be safeguarded only in their homeland, and this could be achieved only through a greater unity between all Tamil-speaking people.

* Since the Muslim people constitute a minority in their homeland, it is important that they should be assured of a life free from fear and insecurity. The LTTE will take all steps to ensure this and extend all co-operation in the future to have the security of the Muslim people guaranteed by law.

* Whatever steps are taken to safeguard the interests of the Muslim people and the arriving at a reasonable power sharing agreement, will be done in such a way as not to undermine the territorial integrity of the Tamil homeland.

* While the Muslim people form 33% of the population in the Eastern province and will comprise 18% in the combined Northern and Eastern provinces, it is agreed that in order to ensure maximum safeguard for them and enable them to enjoy an equitable power-sharing, they will be entitled to not less than 30% of the representation in the provincial council and the Cabinet.

* It is agreed that in all future land distribution, the Muslim people will be entitled to not less than 35% in the Eastern province, not less than 30% in the Mannar district and not less than 5% in other areas.

Just two years later in 1990, the LTTE dishonored the Agreement and proved its animalistic inherent nature of annihilation. The Muslims were expelled from the North whilst the Muslims of the East were killed in their hundreds

The history repeated itself once again, on the 13th of April 2002, Prabakaran and Hakeem signed an agreement as regards to resolving the problems faced by the Muslims in the North and the East. Before the ink was dry the Muslims were attacked by the LTTE in Thoppur, Mutur and Valaichenai in June 2002. The Muslims in the East felt let down, both by the government and the Muslim politicians in the name of the CFA.(Cease Fire Agreement)

The disgruntled Muslims of the East became hostile to the SLMC and other Muslim politicians in the East as a result of being helpless and left at the mercy of the LTTE during the CFA. The South eastern university student community mobilized people in large numbers on 23 January 2003 and made a declaration, famously known as “ Oluvil declaration” and this was the first kind of a public declaration from among the Muslims of the east. This declaration arrested the attention of those who are involved in Sri L Lankan affairs worldwide, but the momentum created by the “Oluvil declaration” had no viable implications on the ground, as there was no Muslim political participation. The Muslims politicians who became apprehensive about the state of affairs, acted quickly to ensure that that there should be no such recurrence in the future. The “Oluvil declaration” emphasized the Muslim homeland and their self determination in the North-East.

"The North-East Muslims are a separate community with discrete identity of religion and culture.

The North-East Province is the traditional homeland of Muslims too.

The Muslims in the North East have rights to decide their own political aspirations and rights.

The peace process must establish a separate self-autonomy for Muslims merging the Muslim-dominated regions in the North East Province.

The rights of Muslims living outside the North-Eastern Province should be established".

This declaration threatened the “Tameelamists” and even other Tamil political parties and organizations. However, some anti-LTTE Tamil nationalists compared this move to the student’s uprising of the Jaffna students against the standardization policy in higher education and perceived it to be a forerunner of a struggle similar to that of the Tamils. This did not happen because the political landscape had rapidly changed in the East. The LTTE lost their grip in the East and the Karuna faction of the LTTE replaced the LTTE of Prabakaran. With all that changes on the ground, the JVP legally de-merged the North and the East. The Muslims has had to re-evaluate their political convictions and demands with the ground realities. However the SLMC recently came out in public that parties present at the APRC presided by Science and Technology Minister Tissa Vitharana had agreed to the proposal forwarded by Sri Lanka Muslim Congress representative, Attorney Nizam Kariappar, that a Muslim autonomous region will be instituted in the Merged North and the East Provinces. However Prof. Tissa Vithrana denied that there was no such agreement with regard to the merger and an establishment of a Muslim autonomous region for the Muslims.

After 1990, the ethnic divide between the Tamils and the Muslims in the North and the East influenced the Muslims’ political decisions and the concept of “territorial integrity of the homeland” became a serious concern to the Tamil nationalists. It also provoked the left-oriented Tamil intelligentsia to postulate a theory of “Two nations in one Homeland”. (Readers may compare the famous statement of Dr. Colvin R D Silva “Two languages one nation or one language two nations”). It identified the Muslims of the North and the East as a nation like that of the Tamil nation in the North and the East, and acknowledged that the two nations have common homeland, language, close economical relationship and are consistently subjugated by the Buddhist –Sinhalese Chauvinism. The theory also unreservedly blamed both the LTTE and the SLMC for their failures in preserving the unity of the nations. It also advanced an argument that the two nations can secede from each other and act independently or The Muslim nation may unite with the Sinhalese nation. The theory also warned that the Tamil nation should recognize the Muslim nation as a separate nation and thus prevent the North and the east being disunited. This theory was hypothetical and more academic hence failed to reach the people concerned. This was an attempt by the Tamil leftists to absorb or to educate the Muslim community in their struggle against the oppressors, the “Sinhalese Chauvinists” in a democratic way. This message did not produce any fruition.

Although, the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE signed the ceasefire agreement in February 2002, the eastern Muslims were laid as offerings at the altar of peace. When Hakeem went to meet Prabakaran with his five party colleagues on the 13th April 2002, he feasted them with Halal mutton curries: ritually slaughtered and cooked by a Muslim cook from Mannar. It was two months after the signing of the agreement in June 2002, that two Muslim cooks who were employed at a Tamil wedding in Valaichenai , were abducted by the LTTE and “cooked”. The LTTE cadres burned their bodies in an attempt to destroy the evidence leading to any future investigation, in the presence of the Sri Lankan authorities. The bride of the wedding where these atrocities occurred later came to London and explained how the LTTE ignored the pleas of the families and the Tamil people at the wedding when they abducted them whilst cooking.

The Oslo Peace talks between the Sri Lankan government delegation and the LTTE in December 2002 , agreed that a to explore a solution founded on the principal of internal self- determination in areas of the historical habitation of the Tamil speaking peoples, based on the federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The LTTE and the Sri Lankan government acknowledged that the “Tamil speaking people” to be stated as “Tamil speaking peoples” in the statement in order to satisfy the LTTE agenda on nationhood which is inclusive of the Muslims. However the Oxford English dictionary defines the word peoples as “ the members of a particular nation, community, or ethnic group.” The LTTE was successful in glossing over the Muslim distinctive identity in the usage of the word “peoples”, with the approval of the government and the Sri Lankan Muslim Government representatives (M.I.M. Mohideen- SLMC). He lamented for his limited role in the “Oslo Declaration” where Hakeem had left him alone and rushed back to Sri Lanka to retain his leadership from Athaullah who staged a coup d'état .
“Oluvil Declaration” followed by “ Mutur Declaration” in August 2006 , where the Federation All Mosques in the Eastern province staged a protest in Kalmunai against the LTTE for their attack , expulsion and killings of the Muslims in Muttur and Thopur. In or about August 2006, Mutur and Thopur were surrounded by the LTTE and people were expelled from the entire villages in resemblance to the expulsion of the Northern Muslims by the LTTE in 1990. The “ Mutur Declaration” was advanced in substance as it had assimilated the aspect of internal self determination for the Muslims in the North and the East in line with the “Oslo Agreement” between the LTTE and the GOSL.

It was unfortunate that the Muslims who put forward the “Mutur Declaration” had sought the recognizance of their internal self-determination from the LTTE as well, It was unfortunate that the Muslims of the East ignorant of the LTTE think tank wide sprerd all over the world and kept on believing that the LTTE’s recognizance of their rights was essential in the East.

The phrase “Tamil speaking people” is intriguing and conveniently used by the Tamils for decades when the Muslim identified themselves as “The Moor”. This observation reflected in a speech delivered by Kumar Ponnambalam in a seminar in Colombo in April 1998. “…It must not be forgotten that the Moors, by and large, resent being lugged together with the Tamils into the category of the Tamil-speaking people and the resentment and objection ahs been there for close on a century. But the Tamils, for reasons of selfishness and convenience still refer to the Moors as belonging in the class of Tamil-speaking people much to the annoyance of the more politically conscious Moors.”

In the process of developing a hypothetical Muslim nationhood, some Muslim academics and researchers have recently postulated a concept, “Moor nation” (Soonaga Thesam). Due to the historical denial of the representation of the Muslim ethnic entity in the ethnic conflict, the Muslims are pushed to redefine their religious identity as an ethnic group. The identity of the Muslims was first denied by Sir. P Ramanathan in 1887 and the Muslim leaders aggressively reacted to Ramanathan’s total repudiation of the Muslims’ identity, and coined the term “ Soonagar”( The Moor) to assert their distinctive identity. The Moors were also classified as Indian Moors and Sri Lankan (Ceylon) Moors. However the Muslims in India were not identified or called themselves as the Moor. The term “Moors” became obsolete and seemed out of context in the emerging Universal Muslim identity. The Sri Lankan chose to identify themselves as the Muslims of Sri Lanka in terms of their religion. After centuries, a section of the Muslim scholars and social activists have reversed to the time of of Ramnathan and reiterated that “We are “Soonagars”: Our language is “Soonagam” : our homeland is “Soonagam”: and our aim is autonomy for the “Soongar” ” One thing becomes more and more lucid that the Tamil’ systematic denial of the Muslims’ own claim to their distinctive identity has prompted some Muslim scholars to rediscover their root and re-consolidate their regional hegemony in line with the Tamil nationalism..

Mrs. Ferial Ashroff had mentioned the concept of “Homeland” with respect to the Eastern Muslims. She also admitted that, “Personally, I am not a believer in this homeland concept. But I also would like the others to know that the Muslims of the Eastern Province if necessary could claim the east to be their ‘homeland’. Although this Homeland claim is the replica of the claim of the Tamil nationalists, the reassurance of hegemony of the Muslims in the North and the East become more and more inevitable to counter the homeland claim of the Tamils and the perceived “sinhalisation” of the East. In the wider perspective of national interest, such as security against terrorism in the USA, Sri Lanka is also facing terrorism from Devendra munai to Point Pedro. Unlike the USA the threat comes from within the country where the section of the people supports the organization which is a designated terrorist organization in the world. The meaning of “Homeland “and the threat to its sustainability may need more interpretation in the Sri Lankan context. Hssan Ali of the SLMC has also warned that the homeland of the Muslims is under threat in the East under the government of Sri Lanka. However
the SLMC could do nothing but blabbered about “Pooratam” (struggle) when the LTTE took control of the Muslims’ land in the North and the East for decades. Hassan Ali was exiled from the East by the LTTE soon after the Parliamentary elections in 1989. The SLMC also attempted to stage a protest against Sri Lankan Government on the 50th Independent Day in London and three members of the SLMC in London handed over a memorandum to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner and the British Prime Minister, against the current Sri Lankan government’s human right violations on the Muslims and the “sinhalisation” of the East, whilst the pro LTTE activists staged a protest against the Sri Lankan Government in and around the Westminster Parliament against the Independence day celebration of Sri Lanka. The SLMC’s homeland campaigners may have found niche in their campaign against the government of Sri Lanka in its independence day in the United Kingdom in line with the Tamil homeland campaigners.

In a context where the terrorism is the menace to the Sri Lankan unity and integrity, the time will have to decide what “Homeland” would really mean to every citizen of the country.

The End.
- Sri Lanka Guardian April 2008

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