“There are theories and there are facts. Theories vary… The facts however cannot be denied. Thousands of Tamils, old and young, and even little children, were assaulted, robbed, killed, bereaved, and made refugees. They saw their homes, possessions, vehicles, shops and factories plundered, burnt or destroyed. These people were humiliated, made to live in fear and rendered helpless…” A Cry From the Heart… What happened at the end of July 1983? (From Bishop Lakshman Wickremasinghe’s Final Pastoral Letter). Channel 4’s “Killing Fields” director Callum Macrae wrote last week; A 12-year-old boy lies on the ground. He is stripped to the waist and has five neat bullet holes in his chest. His name is Balachandran Prabakaran and he is the son of the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. He has been shot dead. Beside him lie the bodies of five men, believed to be his bodyguards. There are strips of cloth on the ground perhaps indicating that they were tied and blindfolded before they were shot – further evidence suggesting that the Sri Lankan government forces had a systematic policy of executing many surrendering or captured LTTE fighters and leading figures, even if they were children. The problem for the Sri Lankan government is that this murder is not isolated. If it was, they could perhaps dismiss it as the act of rogue soldiers.
One cannot help but think that had Balachandran not been Prabhakaran’s son, there is a possibility of him being still alive. One anonymous commentator wrote last Wednesday in the Daily Mirror, “True enough; a death of a child in an armed combat is synonymous with tragedy. However, the unnecessary emphasis the video lays on Balachandran would give one the wrong impression that he was the only child casualty in the thirty-year-old war, when in reality, there was an endless line of children who ceased to be identified with their names and instead became numbers in war reports and casualty lists”.
Killing Prabhakaran’s son is that a simple issue? Of course there were lots of children who were victimised as the result of the bloody war, but I must say killing Balachandran is not that simple. Apart from a war crime allegation, it is an extraordinary example of the structural violence in Sri Lankan society. As conflict resolution experts say, for more than 50 years diplomats, negotiators and social scientists have studied conflict and developed a sophisticated understanding of it. Let me begin by explaining the theoretical background of a conflict. Not all conflict is violent. Conflict is normal when there is change. Some people want change, but others disagree. If their disagreement or their conflict is managed peacefully, it can be a positive process. But when conflict is not managed properly, it becomes violent. In violent conflict, people fear for their safety and survival. When we say conflict, we are usually referring to violent conflict (Ross Howard). Violent physical conflict is easily identified and can be commented on by most. Individuals or groups in conflict try to hurt or kill each other and there will be victims. But there can be other kinds of violence which do greater harm to a society and these are more difficult for people to analyse and explain. There can be hidden violence. This includes; cultural violence and structural violence.
Cultural violence can be the way a group considers another group over a period of years. It can include talk, images or beliefs which glorify physical violence. These include; hate speech, xenophobia, myths and legends of war heroes, religious justification for war and gender discrimination.
Structural violence is harm which is built into the laws and traditional behaviour of a group or society. Harm is permitted or ignored. It can include; institutionalized racism or sexism – laws and practices which allow unequal treatment based on race or sex, colonialism, extreme exploitation, poverty, corruption and nepotism and structural segregation. These kinds of violence are extremely important and need to be identified. Often they are the real cause of direct physical violence. Ending physical violence will not be enough. It will occur again if cultural and structural violence are ignored. After winning the war Rajapaksas preach that there is peace. Is there?
Now can you understand Balachandran’s killing in the context of structural violence? I hope you do? As a civilised nation, for the sake of future generations, the need for national reconciliation and the prevention of communal violence again, it is important not to view Tamil politics in isolation, but rather understand how it developed due to its engagement with the obduracy and blindness of the Southern polity.
Using terrorism, be it state sponsored or by non-state actors is a grave violation committed against the people. There should be no quarrel about it. As Head of State and Commander in Chief, all past leaders in Sri Lanka have issued orders to kill. As non-state actors Rohana Wijeweera and Vellupillai Prabhakaran have issued similar orders . Terrorism by non-state Tamil actors was born as a result of terrorism by the State. This is the repercussion. In 1958 a peaceful Tamil demonstration staged at Galle Face was attacked and a blood bath resulted following orders issued by former Prime Minister S.W.R.D Banadarnaike. It is well known that in June 1958 IGP S. W. O de Silva had told his DIGs at a secret meeting at the Police headquarters how the orders were issued to him by the then Prime Minister. Terrorism by non-state Tamil actors came into fruition twenty year later. That was with the formation of the LTTE led by Vellupillai Prabhakaran. However terrorism by non-state Sinhala actors came to the fore not as a counter to terrorism, but to capture political power. This was so when the JVP was formed by Rohana Wijeweera. In 1971 State sponsored terrorism was launched as a response to terrorism by non-state actors.
In other words, terrorism by non-state Tamils actors began after State sponsored terrorism was launched while terrorism by non-state Sinhala groups came into being before State terrorism was launched. Today the leaders of both such “terrorist” groups are not alive. They were victims of State terrorism. They could not achieve their ultimate goals and ultimately fell victim to a counter form of violence. When Rohana Wijeweera was arrested, he was carrying out his fight against the government whilst terrorizing the whole country. When he was arrested with his family by the army he was living in Nawalapitiya as an estate owner using the alias Attanayake whilst his supporters were still involved in a bitter feud with the government.Unlike Wijeweera, Prabhakaran fought against the government till the last from the battle ground. How Wijeweera was murdered and how Prabakaran too was murdered is still a State secret. It is a mystery yet for the public.
Therein lies the question; What were the futures of these two families? How did the State treat Wijeweera’s wife Chithrangani, son Uvindu and daughters Supun Chaga, Dasun Esha and the other three children? And how did they treat Prabhakaran’s wife Mathiwathini, sons Charles Anthony, Blachandran and daughter Duvaraka? (Charles Anthony was a combatant, so we should leave him out in this argument). Wijeyweera’s family was not killed. They were well looked after by the government. They are still alive. Chithrangani Wijeweera said that the UNP too has done much for her family.
Talking to The Sunday Leader on June 20, 2004, Wijeweera’s wife said; “The late President Ranasinghe Premadasa did a lot for us. He took us into his care at a time when we needed to be looked after. He promised to come and see us in the Trincomalee navy camp on his way to the opening of a university in Batticaloa in June but he died in May that year,”
However we still do not know what exactly happened to Prabhakaran’s wife and children except Charles Anthony. British forensic expert Professor Pounder believes he has identified the first of the shots to be fired at the boy: “There is a speckling from propellant tattooing, indicating that the distance of the muzzle of the weapon to this boy’s chest was two to three feet or less. He could have reached out with his hand and touched the gun that killed him.”
It is clear that Wijeyweera’s family and Prabakaran’s family have been treated differently. Why? It is because of structural violence. Prabhakaran was a Tamil.