Sri Lanka: Moving From Tamil Eelam To Eelam Tamil – Analysis


By Col. R. Hariharan

Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) leader M Karunanidhi seems to have quietly acquiesced to New Delhi’s pressure to shift the focus of his widely publicized “Eelam Tamils’ Rights Protection Conference” on August 12 from ‘Tamil Eelam’ to ‘Eelam Tamil.’ The exercise was more than semantics; except for two – Thol Thirumavalavan of the Viduthalai Chiruthai Katchi (VCK) and Veeramani of the Dravida Kazagham (DK) – other mainline speakers hardly made a reference to an independent Tamil Eelam. Even Thiruma’s speech was mostly devoted to redeem Karunanidhi’s reputation damaged during the Eelam War-4.

Apart from representatives of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, delegates from a number of European countries, Australia and Mozambique, Sweden, Nigeria were also present. Some of the overseas speakers (i.e. representatives from Sweden and Malaysia) devoted most of the speech to praise the ‘Kalaignar’ (artiste) Karunanidhi. However, Dr Wickramabahu Karunaratne, the firebrand leftist leader from Sri Lanka, did not disappoint the participants; he came out hammer and tongs at the callous attitude of Sri Lanka in handling Tamils in the postwar period. Abdul Razak Momoh, member of Nigerian parliament, raised the question “If UN sanctions can be imposed on Iran for taking a nuclear route, why can’t they be imposed on Sri Lanka for indulging in human rights violations?”

India - Sri Lanka Relations
India – Sri Lanka Relations

At a preliminary meeting organized at a city hotel before the conference, Karunanidhi said the long-term solution to ensure the rights of Tamils was a political one, which had been discussed and debated for long. The medium term solution involved reconstruction of infrastructural and civic facilities in Tamil-majority areas in north and east to ensure a decent living for the people including the right to property, education, employment and other democratic rights. Immediate solution was to be found for resettlement, relief and rehabilitation for the war affected Tamils.

Conference resolutions

Though the 14 resolutions passed at the conference (given in annexure) cover the long, medium and short term issues, they lack logical coherence and continuity. No effort appears to have been made to structure or prioritise them to monitor action on them in a time bound manner. Broadly the resolutions seek action from either the UN or India on the following aspects:

  • Those relating to protecting the concept of Tamil nation, identity, language and culture; restoration of democratic rights denied to Tamils; removal of Sinhala settlements in Tamil areas leading to deprivation of opportunities for Tamils; Sinhala exploitation of natural resources in Tamil areas; and on improvement of quality of life of Tamils.
  • Those relating to war crimes and violation of human rights by Sri Lanka and seeking the withdrawal of Sri Lanka army from Tamil areas.
  • Other issues relating to India – status of Sri Lanka Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu, fishermen issue, restoration of Katchtivu to India and Indian assistance to rebuild Tamil lives shattered by war. The resolution added as a tailpiece condemning the All India Anna DMK (AIADMK) for its ‘hostility to Sri Lanka Tamils and their problems’ is totally out of place. It confirmed that AIADMK-bashing was a subsidiary agenda of the conference.

It is evident that Diaspora Tamil interest groups have played an important role in shaping the resolutions. For instance, the Global Tamil Forum has been demanding the appointment of an international committee on behalf of the UN Human Rights Council to go into the war crimes allegations and punish those found guilty. Sri Lanka Tamil leaders and civil society have also raised many of the issues contained in the resolutions on the floor of Sri Lanka parliament as well as in public forums.

The objective of the DMK in rallying India’s solidarity to the Diaspora Tamil campaign against Rajapaksa and taking Sri Lanka to task for the plight of Tamils in post-war period was only partly served as major political parties from India and Sri Lanka had avoided it. The political polemics over the theme of the conference was probably the reason for this.

Thus the conference missed a good opportunity to provide in-depth analyses of problems and come up original ideas on resolving them. It also did not recommend best options for producing the long, medium and immediate results that would impact Sri Lanka Tamils. As a result, the conference has provided only limited value addition.

The resolutions asked ‘the international community’, Government of India or the UN, ignoring the responsibility of primary stakeholders – Sri Lanka government, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim population and political parties – in finding solutions to their problems. This marginalizes the efforts of Tamil leaders locked in eye-ball to eye-ball political confrontation in the island.

Similarly the resolutions have not addressed what Tamil Nadu should do to help improve the situation except to castigate the AIADMK which is in power. Action plan to rally support for taking follow up actions on the resolutions have not been made public. Now the DMK is reported to be planning to take the conference message to the people. This would indicate that despite the lofty rhetoric on Tamil unity, Sri Lanka Tamil issue will continue to be a victim of polemics of Tamil Nadu politics.

So it is not surprising the resolutions provide no out of the box ideas to break the political impasse in the reconciliation process. Thus they are likely to appeal to the converted, which was apparently the limited purpose of the conference. No wonder the conference evoked only lukewarm response the conference both in the media (which had Olympic Games as priority No 1 on August 12) and among Tamils everywhere.

Pointers to the future

The fate of the conference was decided by judicial intervention after both the Centre and the AIADMK-ruled state, in a rare convergence of goals, did not want it to be held for their own reasons. The Centre dropped its reservation after Karunanidhi relented on using the “E-word” (Tamil Eelam). Karunanidhi’s back pedaling shows the DMK’s overriding desire to stay in the Congress-led coalition as it battles for political survival in the state. So we can expect the aging Dravidian leader to defer his “lifetime desire” to see the rise of an independent Tamil Eelam perhaps forever.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms Jayalalitha indulged in no political rhetoric on the conference; but used the more effective police bureaucracy to try and scuttle the conference. While speaking at the Independence Day flag hoisting ceremony three days later, she urged the Centre to pressurise Sri Lanka to ensure rehabilitation of internally displaced Tamils back in their original settlement and also devolve equal powers on par with the Sinhalese. This clearly indicates that Kalaignar would not a have free run to exploit the Tamil issue to his political advantage.

The Centre has sent a clear message “thus far and no more” on its stand on Tamil Eelam to Tamil Diaspora by not allowing some of the de-striped Tamil Tigers and pro-Eelam lobbyists to participate in the conference. This was done not only to maintain India’s objection to Tamil separatism but also to act upon Sri Lankan concern on Diaspora Tamil separatists gaining a foothold in India. When pushed, New Delhi would probably take action to crack down on LTTE supporters in Tamil Nadu.

New Delhi did not allow a few others from Sri Lanka to attend the conference. This showed that despite India’s sympathies for Tamils, it was averse to allow the Tamil issue to eclipse its larger in interest in Sri Lanka.

The whole political mess stirred up by New Delhi and Tamil Nadu about the conference must have discouraged the more vociferous Tamil leaders from participation. Tamil Nadu leaders should understand that Sri Lanka Tamil leaders’ priority will continue to be to maintain working links with New Delhi rather than get entangled in partisan politics of Tamil Nadu.

Tailpiece: The DMK would do well to listen to Ram Vilas Paswan, president of Lok Janshakti Party, suggestion at the conference to make people in the rest of India aware of the sufferings of Lankan Tamils to mobilise mass support for their cause. He said people in North India mistake Lankan Tamil issue as an LTTE problem. Hopefully that will educate the rest of India on the Sri Lanka Tamil issue.

(Col R Hariharan a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence. E-mail: [email protected])


Resolutions of the ‘Eelam Tamils’ Rights Protection Conference held at Chennai on August 12, 2012
[Text courtesy:]

Resolution 1

This Conference expresses its gratitude to the Nations, which voted in favour of the Resolution passed in the Human Rights Council of the U.N.O. in May, 2012. The Resolution was based on the report of the Expert Committee, appointed by the U.N.O. for enquiring into the Genocide and Human Rights Violations in Sri Lanka. The Report was given to the U.N.O. in April, 2011.

This Conference requests the Human Rights Council of the U.N.O. to appoint a Supervisory Committee to oversee whether the Sri Lankan Government takes determined action as urged in the Resolution passed in the Human Rights Council of the U.N.O.

Resolution 2

There was mass-killing of Tamils in Sri Lanka during May, 2009. There was bombing in the areas notified as Safety-Zones and Hospitals. This was unprecedented and had not happened in any other war and therefore it should be called a State-sponsored Terrorism. Efforts to obliterate all traces of war-crimes were taken, so that the outside world did not come to know of them.

All these details have been made clear in the Report of the Three Member Team, headed by Darusman of Indonesia and constituted by Ban-ki-Moon, Secretary General of the U.N.O.

Even after a year since the Report was released, an Independent International Team of Experts has not been formed to examine the War-Crimes.

The Tamil Race, which has lost several thousands of lives, has now reached a stage to raise its voice demanding Justice.

This Conference urges the U.N.O. to appoint an International Committee on behalf of the Human Rights Council of the U.N.O. to go into the War-crimes and punish those found guilty of crimes.

Resolution 3

Sinhalisation of traditional Tamil areas is part of an evil design of the Sri Lankan Government, which has taken efforts to demolish the Tamils’ Cultural roots, apart from their endeavour to wipe out the Tamils’ way of living based on geographical factors.

Eezham Tamils’ educational institutions and the famous Jaffna Library were destroyed by the Sri Lankan Army. Hindu Temples, Mosques and Churches are being attacked and demolished and traces of Tamils’ Language is being mangled. Tamil Name Boards in shops and business establishments and Tamil names of Roads are changed and re-written in Sinhala Language. Sinhalisation of the names of places has become certain. In the North and East areas, infrastructural facilities required for settling Sinhalese are being constructed by the Sri Lankan Government.

Sri Lankan Tamils have been preserving their unique identity for a very long time. It is most condemnable that the Sri Lankan Government, while calling itself a democratic State, have been indulging in violent activity, which even the British did not have the courage to do and the world would not approve.

This Conference, therefore, appeals to the U.N.O., which is the representative institution of the Nations of the World, to immediately put an end to the atrocities of the Sri Lankan Government.

Resolution 4

India has the Duty, Right and Responsibility to undertake measures for ensuring peace and equality in the neighbouring Sri Lanka.

Indian Government has been protecting a number of Nationalities, Religions and Languages, as required by its democratic traditions. But contrary to this Indian situation, in the neighbouring Sri Lanka, there is no protection for the Tamil Nationality, Religion and Language. Therefore this Conference points out to the Indian Government that a question has naturally arisen in the hearts of Tamils as to why the Indian Government has been silent on the undemocratic developments in Sri Lanka.

The Indian Government should, therefore, take all necessary steps to ensure a total change of environment in Sri Lanka and a life of equality and peace to the Sri Lankan Tamils, by redeeming their political, economic and cultural rights.

This Conference urges the Government of India to bring forth a Resolution in the U.N.O., for bestowing full right to the Tamils in Sri Lanka to decide the political solution themselves, which they have been demanding.

Resolution 5

Most of the Tamils in the North and the East of Sri Lanka have been eking out their living under trees and in open places and are left to the favour of their relatives. The financial assistance given to those leaving the camps is very small. These families have to struggle for their basic needs. As there is no job available for them to do, the re-settled Tamils are put to hellish agonies. Lands and Houses of Eezham Tamils are forcibly grabbed. Several thousands of Acres of Land owned by Tamils in areas like Sambur, Mannar and Vavuniya have been taken by force.

This Conference, therefore, urges the U.N.O. to formulate measures to put an end to such cruelty, forcing the Tamils to live in their own Home-land as refugees, since their traditional lands were snatched by force.

Resolution 6

Today in Sri Lanka the presence and power of the Army are more predominant than democratic system of Government. The Army has taken over a very large number of houses of the Tamils for their activities. The Army has brought vacant houses under its control and has been refusing to vacate. No social function could be held in the houses of Tamils in the North and East without the permission of the Army.

Only the Army men are appointed as District Administrators and Government functionaries there. Tamil Eezham today looks like an Army-Camp. There is no way out for the Tamils to air their grievances, talk or peacefully agitate in the absence of democratically- elected local bodies. They are under constant panic.

Number of Tamil youth have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Many Tamils are subjected to untold agony and suffering in the Torture-Camps. Tamil women are put to all kinds of abuses by the Army. Tamil children are kept in full glare of the Guns. They live in perpetual fear, having been affected by the violence unleashed by the Army.

The Annual Statement for 2011 released by the External Affairs Ministry of the U.K. says that about 90 thousand Tamil women have been widowed, as a consequence of the War. Their future has become bleak. As a further threat to their lives, the Army are putting them to torturous treatments and abuses.

This Conference, therefore, pleads with the U.N.O. and Nations of the World, to bring pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to withdraw the Army from the Tamil Areas immediately. This Conference further requests the U.N.O., to constitute an International Committee to directly supervise withdrawal of the Army.

Resolution 7

The Trade and Commercial Life of Eezham Tamils suffers at the hands of Sinhalese due to their interference and intimidation. The Army has encroached all the areas of Civil life and brought the economy under its control. Activities like farming, vegetable trade, hotels, restaurants and barber-shops have been taken over by the Army. There were before many shops with sellers on the A-9 Highway from Jaffna to Colombo. But now all those shops have been encroached upon by the Ex-Sinhalese Army Men. Sinhalese shops have come up in the areas of Nallur Kandaswamy Temple.

Tamils’ resources in Tamil Eezham Areas are being exploited. Sinhalese are mining lime-stone available in plenty in the Northern areas and taking them away. Sand and forest wealth have started moving towards the South from the Northern and Eastern Areas. Rights of Minerals endowed by Nature to the Sons of the Soil are being gravely violated.

Sinhala-fishermen are being settled in the areas traditionally under occupation by the Tamil-fishermen in the coastal areas of the North and East. This has affected the livelihood of Tamil fishermen.

Sinhalese forcibly settled in Tamil areas should be sent back and Tamils should again be declared as the rightful owners of the natural resources, trade and commerce. This conference appeals that the U.N.O. should urge the Sri Lankan Government to take steps immediately to restore normalcy in the life of the Tamils.

Resolution 8

U.N.O. should take steps to entrust to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees the Tamils, who had fled, fearing attacks of the army in the Eezham areas and the Tamils living in distress in various countries as refugees and the Tamils, who are put in prisons abroad, as they had left their own country and did not have proper documents. Further, this Conference requests that the U.N.H.C.R. to initiate steps for the grant of required financial aid and travel documents.

Resolution 9

This Conference urges the Government of India to grant Indian Citizenship Right or Permanent Resident Status to all the Refugees, who have come from Sri Lanka and have been living in India, to lead a contented life. This Conference also urges that U.N. Protocol on Refugees should be followed in India.

Resolution 10

Tamils in Eezham areas should be given all required fundamental rights of living and democratic rights. This Conference considers that the Rehabilitation of Sri Lankan Tamils will be an eye wash and will remain a distant dream, unless violation of their basic rights is stopped.

Therefore this Conference firmly believes that only the following steps will enable Eezham Tamils to lead a life of dignity and self respect; A Referendum should be conducted with the Sri Lankan Tamils through the U.N.O. It should be highlighted as South-Asian Human Rights Issue.

No Race or people can survive or preserve their racial identity or language, if their culture is lost. The Sri Lankan Government should ensure protection of Tamil Culture and Language. But it is a saddening fact that the Sri Lankan Government have been taking all possible efforts to destroy Tamils’ culture and language. Tamil Language is being weakened, without bestowing on it the status of official language. Action has been taken to destroy Tamil tradition in all fronts.

Thousands of Tamils, who have been imprisoned, should be freed.

Sri Lankan Tamils, who have gone to various countries of the world from their Home-land, leaving their traditional places of residence, out of sheer fear for their life should be allowed to freely and safely come and go to their mother-land without any restriction.

Fully-functioning schools and Universities, filling up of teacher vacancies in all North and Eastern districts are priority needs for brightening the future of Tamil Children and improving their literacy.

Medical facilities should be ensured with specialized services to the war-affected people. Mental and Neural depression and stress conditions, which are due to war and loss of family, should be addressed.

Tamils’ houses, shops, commercial complexes, schools, colleges and roads damaged by the Sri Lankan army should be repaired and restored. Rs. 500 crore granted by the Indian Government as rehabilitation assistance for the Tamils should be properly made use of for these works.

This Conference appeals that India, in co-ordination with the countries of the world, should come forward to play its primary role in implementing these solutions.

Resolution 11

It is our foremost duty to protect Indian fishermen from attacks on them by the Sri Lankan Navy, while ensuring protection and relief to Sri Lankan Tamils. The un-armed and innocent Tamil Fishermen are being mercilessly attacked by the Sri Lankan Navy. They are shot at and killed. Their Fishing-Boats are sunk in the Sea. Their Catch of Fish is seized.

Tamil-Fishermen are being treated by the Sri Lankan Navy in an inhuman manner.

As the “Katcha-Thivu”, which was within the territories of India, was entrusted with the Sri Lankan Government, Sri Lankan Navy is harassing and attacking the Tamil Fishermen, even when they go near this area.

This Conference urges the Government of India to put an end to this atrocity, by bringing “Katcha-Thivu” under its control and establishing an Indian Navy Unit to be stationed at Dhanushkodi.

Resolution 12

This Conference is unable to accept imparting training to the Sri Lankan Army men in any State in India, as it affects the Sri Lankan Tamils. This Conference, therefore, urges the Government of India to avoid completely training to the Sri Lankan Army men.

Resolution 13

A threatening announcement has been made on behalf of the Sri Lankan Government that this Conference, which is being conducted for the Protection of Right to Life and Livelihood of Eezham Tamils, is unlawful and that those going to Tamil Nadu from Sri Lanka for participating in the Conference are being watched. This Conference strongly condemns the undemocratic attitude of the Sri Lankan Government.

Resolution 14

The A.D.M.K. and A.D.M.K. Administrators have always been hostile to the problem of Sri Lankan Tamils. Continuing this tendency, a series of difficulties were caused to stop the Conference and permission was refused through the Police Department to the Conference which we proposed to hold in Chennai for the protection of rights of Eezham Tamils and in which a number of dignitaries from various countries including Sri Lanka were to participate.

A situation was thus created forcing us to go to the Court to obtain permission for the Conference. This Conference strongly condemns the anti-Tamil Eezham attitude of the ADMK Government.


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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