Does ethnic tension create the conflict? Or does the conflict create ethnic tension?
A number of events clearly demonstrate that some sort of ethnic tension did exist prior to the First Eelam War in 1983, including:
-The disenfranchisement of Tamil tea plantation workers in 1949.
-Anti-Tamil riots of 1956, 1958, and 1977.
-Changing the country’s name to Ceyland and emphasizing Buddhism as the religion, antagonizing the Tamil (mostly Hindu) minority in 1972.
A new report from Minority Rights Group International has addressed the issue that conflicts such as the one in Sri Lanka that “could have been prevented flare up, as warning signs provided by minority rights violations go unheeded.”
Could have, would have, should have. The conflict has exacerbated this tension beyond words.
A girl from my office says she does not like to wear her pottu (the mark between a girl’s eyebrows indicative of Tamil ethnicity) when she leaves Tamil neighborhoods since she knows the police will hassle her. A British expat told me a story where he went out with a couple of friends one night, one of them being a Tamil female. When they were stopped by police to check IDs, the police accused her of being a prostitute for being out so late at night. The police used her cell phone to call her parents and tell them that their daughter is a prostitute.
Hatred is something learned. When people are only hearing one point of view, it is natural to think that news is the correct version.
Sinhalese people, rarely literate in Tamil, only read or hear the Sinhalese and occasionally English versions of the news. Tamil people, rarely literate in Sinhalese, only read or hear the Tamil and occasionally English versions of the news. All of these papers take an angle on the conflict, so few people receive fair and unbiased reporting.
When the government expels Tamils from Colombo and (allegedly) bans TamilNet in Sri Lanka, it starts to highlight the different ethnicities even more. As Brad Adams, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch said, “Nothing could be more inflammatory in Sri Lanka’s polarized climate than identifying people by ethnicity and kicking them out of the capital.”
I fear what will happen if the LTTE and government become more desperate, take more steps to highlight the differences, if minority rights are not addressed now.
As recent events in the Gaza Strip have shown, things can always get worse.
Posted By Madeline England
Posted Jun 29th, 2007