Moving beyond the violence of past

| | in Oped

Sustainable peace in Sri Lanka can come about only with a meeting of hearts of all communities, write SUKANYA NATARAJAN and PREETY BHOGAL

Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first Indian head of Government to visit Sri Lanka for the first time in 28 years. The key takeaways of the visit were the signing of the four major agreements on visa, customs, youth development and building Rabindranath Tagore memorial in Sri Lanka. India agreed to help Sri Lanka in transforming Trincomalee into a petroleum hub and extended a new line of credit of $318 million for developing the railways sector in Sri Lanka.

With an aim to stabilise the Sri Lankan Rupee, the Reserve Bank of India and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka approved a currency swap agreement of $1.5 billion. These measures will help India have stronger economic cooperation with its most strategic neighbour in the region. The two sides raised concerns about border-terrorism, illegal intrusions and extremism that need to be dealt with on a priority basis. The most significant part of the visit was Mr Modi addressing the Tamil population in the war-ravaged Northern and Eastern-Provinces of Sri Lanka. Mr Modi stressed the importance of expediting efforts for building an equitable framework that is favourable to the aspirations of all the sections of society, including the minorities.

It was noted for a ‘united Sri Lanka’, it is necessary for the new Government to fully implement the 13th Amendment. In an attempt to support the families of civilians displaced during the 26 year civil war, India handed over 27,000 newly constructed homes to the Tamil community. Through this, a message to the Sri Lankans has been conveyed that India will help with the reconciliation process in the island nation.

Tamils in Sri Lanka are not a homogenous category as it is often thought to be. The aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils, settled in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, are different from the Hill Tamils who have more recent associations with India and live in the Province situated in the central highlands. The Plantation Tamil community constitutes nearly five per cent of the total population of Sri Lanka and has been accusing the Governments of Sri Lanka and India for neglecting its existence. The Hill Tamils do not possess any land ownership or political rights. However, the situation of Sri Lankan Tamils is not any different from the Hill Tamils.

Regular conflict in and around the northern regions of Jaffna, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi has made living conditions difficult and torturous for the Tamils. Huge unemployment prevails among the youth and women in the Northern and Central Provinces of Sri Lanka, which is further aggravated by the lack of food and other basic facilities, coupled with constant military surveillance in these regions.

Thus, it is a dire need that the worldwide reconciliation efforts to bring together all members of the Sri Lankan community including Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese and many others are acknowledged by the new Sri Lankan Government. With the new President at helm, the Tamil minorities have been instilled with hope of getting greater autonomy and political powers.

With an aim to reinforce the ethnic ties between the two countries, India has been providing relief to minorities in Northern, Eastern and Central Provinces of the island nation through the release of land held by the Sri Lankan military, and capacity-building measures. During the visit of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera to India in January, it was agreed that a consultative process of re-engaging on the repatriation process of Sri Lankan refugees in India will be started.

However, in the view of prevalent environment of fear, the deployment of the military in Tamil areas and the non-settlement of displaced people, the Indian government has decided to defer any discussions on the repatriation issue of the Sri Lankan refugees in India. Ethnic reconciliation and strengthening of cultural ties provides an opportunity for enhanced cooperation between the two sides. The Governments of both nations must collaborate to provide support to the conflict-affected minority communities in Sri Lanka and expedite efforts towards building a road to sustainable peace through recognition of political rights to the minorities in the island nation.

(The writers are researchers at Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi)

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