A Publication of Cornell University's South Asia Program Spring 2003
SRI LANKA: Dynamics of Violence, Challenges of Peace by Cynthia Caron
To mark the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the cease-fire agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a conference was held on February 7 & 8. The conference organizers and lines (an online editorial collective;
www.lines-magazine.org) brought together U.S.-based and international scholars and activists to discuss the dynamics of the peace process and what, if any, realized outcomes had been achieved since February 2002.
Dr. Arjuna Parakrama of Colombo’s Center for Policy Alternatives delivered a keynote address entitled, “Accounting for Peace as Violence by Another Name: Heretical Thoughts from the Margins of the Sri Lankan Ethnic Conflict.” Dr. Parakrama, a grassroots activist who works in the border zone villages of the North and East, passionately presented a series of observations on the peace process and its realization ‘on the ground’. He provided a chilling account of how there has been a nine fold increase of child abductions and disappearances for LTTE conscription since the signing of the MOU, threats to civilian populations if they reported cease-fire related indiscretions to the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM),and the overall reduction of peace talks to a dialogue between the two perpetrators (the Government and LTTE).1 The opinions and experiences of civilian populations and many civil-society organizations appear seemingly irrelevant within the negotiations’ current political climate. If this is what peace looks like, Dr. Parakrama asked, is this not just violence by another name? Dr. Parakrama, also a well known poet, ended his talk with lyrical prose in which he stated that ‘this peace is killing me’ closing with the fact that he was going to take a short break from the pursuit of peace. The conference’s first session featured papers on issues of Sinhalese, Muslim and Tamil identity and cleavages within these three communities. Dr. Chandra R. de Silva, Professor of History at Old Dominion University, sent a paper that illuminated internal differentiation within the Buddhist monastic or bhikku community. His paper, “Categories, Identity and Difference: Buddhist Monks (bhikkus) and Peace in Lanka,” made three salient points. First it highlighted differentiation within the Buddhist sangha itself and how differences between Sri Lanka’s three major monastic orders influenced their support for the peace process. Second it made a distinction between the concept of a single state in Sri Lanka and the idea of a unitary or single Sri Lanka. For the devolution proposal to go forward (devolution of powers to Tamil-dominated areas), the idea of a united Sri Lanka needs to be separated from the idea of a unitary state in Sri Lanka. Finally, his paper illustrated how monastic education might be improved in order to create a more stable environment for peace. The present monastic syllabus does not include any instruction on the history, religion, and culture of Sri Lanka’s minority communities (i.e., Hindu, Muslim, and Christian). Drawing on the adage ‘we are what we know’, the paper concluded that to overcome the idea that non-Buddhist traditions were a threat to a united Sri Lanka, the pirivena or monastic curriculum should include information about the island’s other minority communities. In so doing, young monks would have a broader education and knowledge base upon which they could make better informed decisions about their role in sustaining the peace process. Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict is often portrayed as a conflict between Tamil-Hindus and Sinhala-
Attorney-at-Law, Mr. Seyed M.M. Bazeer of London’s Sri Lankan Muslim Information Center contributed much-needed insight into the plight of Sri Lanka’s Muslim population. Sri Lankan Muslims, as Tamil speakers, historically have been considered as part of an undifferentiated Tamil community. Mr. Bazeer illustrated how over the past 20 years the Muslim community’s aspirations and culture have not been fully recognized by the LTTE leadership or by the central government. One turning point in Muslim-LTTE relations occurred in 1990 when the LTTE leadership expelled the entire Muslim population from the Jaffna peninsula, violating the Badiudin-Kittu (Muslim-Tamil) Accord of 1988. Mr. Bazeer asserted that Sri Lankan Muslims need to be recognized and treated as a distinct ethnic group within a larger Tamil-speaking nationality. He also cautioned that the Sri Lankan Muslim population itself is not homogenous and that different regional constituencies have distinct needs. For example, the expulsion of northern Muslims demands a safe repatriation option for them. Muslims residing in the Eastern Provinces have been expropriated from much of their land. Land reform and a decolonization process are essential in the Eastern Province. Negotiations should include a broad range of nonpolitical Muslim organizations and religious institutions in addition to the politically-recognized Sri Lankan Muslim Congress’s (SLMC) leadership.
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