National Sections of the L5I:

Sri Lanka: defend the Tamils

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The ongoing offensive by government forces in Sri Lanka is part of a new phase in the Sinhala chauvinist coalition’s attempts to defeat the Tamil Tigers, the main armed force amongst the Tamil minority. It marks the de facto collapse of a ceasefire brokered by Norwegian mediation in 2002, which ended almost 20 years of war. The ceasefire led to no serious concessions to the Tamils demands. It was effectively ripped up by the new government of Prime minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake in 2005.

During the last fifteen months around 4,000 people have been killed as government forces sought to retake the Tamil controlled areas.

The Tamils, about 18% of the population, are divided from the Sinhalese majority by both language and religion. The antagonism between Tamils and Sinhalese goes back to the divide and rule policies of the British colonialists, who typically used minority elites to help them maintain control. Thus the British favoured middle class Tamils for the civil service, medicine and law. Yet many Tamils, especially those working as labourers in the great tea plantations of central Sri Lanka, were viciously exploited.

Since Ceylon became an independent state in 1948 and in particular from the mid-1950s onwards these privileges were reversed. The poor “Estate Tamils” were stripped of their citizenship and repeated attempts were made to force their immigration and to colonise Tamil areas with Sinhala speakers. Tamils suffered discrimination in terms of both language use in education, access to government jobs, and were periodically subjected to violent pogroms from Sinhalese chauvinist gangs, plus police repression.

This oppression naturally led to militant Tamil nationalist organisations being set up. The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) was founded in 1976. They soon espoused the cause of forming a separate national state, Tamil Eelam (Tamil Homeland). The TULF won most Tamil seats in the 1977 election but was then excluded from Parliament. Since 1983 Tamil forces have been waging an armed struggle. The largest of these is the LTTE, led by Velupillai Prabhakaran, also known as the Tamil Tigers.

The LTTE have been accused of assassinations and repression of other Tamil resistance organisations, using child soldiers and even of “inventing” the suicide bomber (the so-called Black Tigers). It has been declared an illegal terrorist organisation by over 30 countries.

However it organises substantial armed forces and has control of a significant portion of the north and east of the island and is supported by much of the Tamil population.

The conflict cannot be resolved until the national oppression of the Tamils is ended. This means that the revolutionary forces of the working class, Sinhala and Tamil speaking must actively fight for the Tamils the right to self determination, up to and including total independence if they so wish. The alternative is more years of bloody warfare and division that is caused by an imposed ‘unity.’

They must also support the LTTE’s struggle against the repression of the Sri Lankan army, calling for the latter to cease its offensive and immediately and unconditionally withdraw from the Tamil areas. This does not mean either political support for the LTTE or endorsement of its indiscriminate actions against Sinhalese civilians or rival Tamil organisations.

Only on this basis can the working class be united in the struggle for socialism, which alone can finally end all national, racial and gender oppression, rooted as these are in capitalist exploitation.