Sivaram showed how Sri Lankan state was dependent on oppression of Tamils: Prof. Whitaker

[TamilNet, Saturday, 01 May 2010, 17:10 GMT]
Sivaram’s biographer and close friend Professor Mark P. Whitaker said Thursday that Sivaram’s ability as a professional journalist to show convincingly how the Sri Lankan state was dependent upon its oppression of Tamil people, was one of the key reasons why he was targeted and killed exactly five years ago. Professor of Anthropology of the University of South Carolina , Mark P. Whitaker made these observations when delivering a speech at an event in London to commemorate the fifth death anniversary of Sri Lanka ’s top journalist Dharmeratnam Sivaram, well-known by his pseudonym as Taraki.

Being one of Sivaram’s long-standing intellectual friends, Prof. Whitaker said the late Taraki had always argued that any settlement for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka “would have required not only a radical restructuring of the state, but an equally radical reordering of the means of violence currently at its disposal”.

“I can’t imagine how threatening this notion must have been to those in charge of the guns and shackles, but I can guess,” Prof. Whitaker said at the event, organised by the Tamil Legal Advocacy Project (TLAP) at the Conway Hall in central London .

The event began with the lighting of the traditional oil lamp by Sivaram’s brother Dharmeratnam Sooriyakumar and the guest speakers Lee Karu QC, Human Rights Lawyer, Vino Kanapathipillai, Editor, Tamil Guardian and Anandhi Suriyapragasam, formerly of BBC Tamil Service.

Prof. Whitaker said that late Sivaram had always predicted his own death saying that what he was doing would eventually get him killed.

Enumerating the kinds of judgements, insights and principles late Sivaram brought to his work as Taraki and as an editor of Tamilnet, Prof Whitaker said, “he was one of the few journalists in the world to understand how profoundly the end of the Cold War had transformed Sri Lanka’s geopolitical circumstances”.

“This was something he had remarked upon on as early as 1990, long before other commentators were taking this tectonic shift into account; and it gave him an insight into the complex politics being played out between India, the US, the LTTE (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and the Sri Lankan government that, I suspect, was embarrassing in its clarity for all the players involved,” he said.

Lee Karu QC, Sivaram’s cousin and a leading criminal defence lawyer in the UK spoke about Sivaram’s childhood and how surprisingly he rose to a much-respected intellect and think-tank. He said Sivaram as a child never showed his interest in studies.

Mr. Karu said it was astonishing to see a boy who compromised his early university education to become a Tamil military, later excelled in national and international politics and went on writing several in-depth articles on local, national, regional international politics and its complicities.

Mr. Karu was called to the English bar in 1985 and the first Tamil to be appointed as Queen’s Counsel in England & Wales in February 2010. He has appeared in many high-profile cases.

Speaking at the event, Tamil Guardian Editor Vino Kanapathipillai said her newspaper has had a long relationship with Sivaram almost since its very inception, with him being the “instructor and mentor to the longer-serving volunteers of the paper”.

Highlighting the current politico-military situation in Sri Lanka, Ms. Kanapathipillai said that it was only a “conventional understanding” that the island nation is in a post-war or post-conflict scenario and “in this understanding, the path to peace is one defined by reconstruction, development, reconciliation and so on”.

“However, this is based on a very narrow understanding of war, as merely the clash of arms. Wars end when armed clashes end. In fact, the clash of arms is a manifestation of vehemently contradictory politics that have already been underway,” she said.

Quoting Carl von Clausewitz, one of the theorists Sivaram was most influenced by Ms Kanapathipillai said that “the war is a continuation of politics by other means.”

“In this logic, even the most casual observer of the Sri Lankan state’s conduct can see that the situation today is the continuation of war by other means. By war, I am referring to the systematic and ideologically coherent practices of the state against the Tamils and other non-Sinhalese”.

“What we see today is the intensification of structural violence against the Tamil people that began from independence, she said, stressing the structural practices of the Sri Lankan state, aimed at limiting and suppressing the thriving of non-Sinhala people, in addition to the continuation of disappearances, abductions, murders, rapes and torture.

Since independence, the Tamil Guardian editor pointed out that the Sri Lankan state has been breaking down “all resistance to the Sinhala nationalist project - to turn Sri Lanka into a modern day realization of an ancient myth that the island belongs to the Sinhalese and in which the minorities have a subordinate existence”.

“As such, anyone who stands in the way of Sinhala majoritarianism – including principled Sinhalese who are not supportive of that project – are destroyed. This, as we know, is also why Sivaram was killed,” Ms. Kanapathipillai said.

In her address, Anandhi Suriyapragasam said that by killing Sivaram the Sri Lankan state has deprived the Tamil people of a great scholar and a fearless journalist.

Former MP Jeyananthamoorthy, who is also a close friend of Sivaram, said that Taraki mobilised the Tamil community towards the liberation struggle through his writings.

Claiming that Sivaram played a key role in forming up the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is now the third force in the Sri Lankan parliament, he said that Taraki found a place in the hearts of Tamil people for his unreserved commitment for the Tamil national struggle.

Lee Scott, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Ilford North said although Sivaram was killed five years ago, no one has been brought before justice to-date. He said several journalists have been killed, threatened and a large number of innocent Tamil civilians had been killed in Sri Lanka in the name of war.

“I have become an enemy of the Sri Lankan state as I have been supporting the Tamil people and their political aspirations. I look forward to continuing my genuine support even in the future,” he said.

Lee Scott has been the Member of Parliament for Ilford North since 2002 for over 7 years. He is a great supporter of the Tamil cause. He has played an active role in the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils since its inception and has always worked hard in the UK to promote Tamil rights.

And Mr. Toby Boutle, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Ilford South vehemently condemned attack against independent journalists in Sri Lanka and the culture of impunity.

“Media freedom is a key to any democracy. Today we have states like Sri Lanka, where journalists are threatened, abducted and even killed, despite it being a member of Commonwealth,” Mr. Toby, who is a barrister, said.

He worked for a year as a speechwriter to William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary believes that independent homeland for Tamils is the only solution for the Sri Lankan conflict.


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