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Don't let them down

The people of Sri Lanka hope that India will help their country more actively in creating a post-conflict atmosphere of peace, harmony and prosperity, writes Lalith Weeratunga.

india Updated: Jan 06, 2013 21:47 IST

Today there is an unprecedented, genuine feeling of sorrow mixed with uneasiness among ordinary Sri Lankans when they talk about India. Our people consider India their elder relative who should be playing the most vital role, not only as the most important neighbour but also as a world leader in ensuring that peace, tranquillity, harmony and prosperity flourish on our once conflict-ridden island, which is home to some 20 million people of different ethnic origins, creeds and religions.

They believe that India should be more appreciative of the Herculean task now afoot under the personal supervision of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to repair the lives and dreams of millions who suffered the most egregious ravages of terrorism for more than three decades. And, naturally, they were saddened to see India, herself a victim of international terrorism, vote recently against her younger relative at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). They are equally disturbed to hear that certain political parties are still holding Tamil-Eelam rallies in India. Many are bitter about the attack on Sri Lankan pilgrims in Tamil Nadu and the hostility shown to sports persons and joint military training.

The canard spread, particularly in some countries in Europe, is that after the decisive victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lanka will no longer be concerned about the rights and grievances of Sri Lanka's Tamils. If Prabhakaran had lived, the chances of the Tamils surviving as a viable community would have been reduced to zero. He would have either sent the Tamil youth to a war he could not have won or would have killed them himself. The Tamils of Sri Lanka are our people and we are proud of them. Our government will tolerate no injustice towards them as it would not tolerate injustice to any Sri Lankan. My closest friends in school and later in adult life have been Tamils. The president's family is intermarried with Tamils. His cabinet includes Tamils. Over 65% of our Tamils have always lived in peace and harmony and prosperity in areas that were outside LTTE control.

Gradually, the world is waking up to the positive work that has been done by our Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). It has now been praised by delegations from the United States who have come on fact-finding visits to Sri Lanka even after the UNHRC vote, as well as by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. An Indian parliamentary delegation led by Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, also visited the northern areas of our country and the observations she made to the media were most encouraging.

Our president was disappointed that J Jayalalithaa, chief minister of Tamil Nadu, who came back to power with a thumping majority, did not even allow one representative from her party to come with the delegation. We would have liked her to communicate with Sri Lanka's Tamils directly and experience for herself what progress we have made in resettlement and rehabilitation. She is a genuine and democratically elected Tamil leader, and she commands great respect in Sri Lanka for the courageous stand she has taken against the LTTE when it held sway.

President Rajapaksa once said: "I know how strongly people feel about their mother tongue. There is a saying in Tamil that even god forgives those who abuse him in Tamil!" We are making good progress in bringing the Tamil language to the administration, and there is a marked increase in the number of Tamils in the police service. The rollback and eventual abolition of emergency regulations in August 2011, in tandem with the gradual improvement in the country's law and order situation in the post-conflict phase, has led to further consolidation of peace.

In keeping with the recommendations of the LLRC, the military has been withdrawn from aspects of civilian life, and is now confined to security-related matters. It is a matter of great satisfaction to the government that our rapid and orderly process of resettlement of internally displaced persons has been recognised and commended internationally. The list is endless, our initiatives keep multiplying. We realise that the peace we have won at such cost will not be genuine until and unless the legitimate aspirations of all communities are met in a substantive and satisfactory manner.

To those persisting with the illusion of Eelam, I quote from President Rajapaksa's interview with an Indian journalist: "Just for theory's sake, suppose Prabhakaran had succeeded in creating an independent Eelam. How would India react to an independent state within Sri Lanka, headed by a terrorist military dictatorship under a tyrant who had murdered all his Tamil political rivals and an Indian prime minister, with a navy and air force capable of threatening India's sea lanes, funded by foreign money and actively interfering in India's domestic politics? I do not believe any Indian government could live with such a situation."

Lalith Weeratunga is Permanent Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka
The views expressed by the author are personal