About the ousting of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Sri Lanka’s President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, along with the Prime Minister, have been forced to resign after months of protests against his corrupt leadership have led to an economic crisis and nationwide shortages of essential goods and services that touched everyone in the country. During months.
What frustrates me, as the eldest daughter of a Sri Lankan Tamil immigrant and refugee, is that news reports about Gotabaya Rajapaksa seem to ignore the fact that he is a war criminal who played a significant role in the 2009 Tamil genocide.
Do you not remember the Sri Lankan genocide of the Tamil people in 2009? Try to enter “Protest by over 2000 Tamil Canadians marching and taking over Gardiner in Toronto” in your memory because it usually pulls something up.
I have come to realize that what we have been told to call a “civil war” is actually decades of state-sanctioned violence and systemic oppression of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka.Samanta Krishnapillai, Founder of the On Canada Project
I already take issue with the fact that much of our reporting on low-income countries that are currently in a state of turmoil, corruption, etc., which often characterizes them as savage by Western media – erases the fact that the current situation in these countries is directly correlated with the occupation of their lands by European colonizers. I don’t like that we leave this out already, but I recognize that it takes a certain level of self-awareness to report like this and most, if not all, European colonizers and colonial states continue to Choose not do the job.
But ignoring the 2009 genocide of an entire community of people, after years of what the media often calls a “civil war” – but what I’ve come to realize is actually state-sanctioned violence and systemic oppression against the Tamil minority after independence from the British – is shoddy journalism at best and erasure at the worst of the struggle of an entire community.
People often act as if the Tigers are politely asking the government for the release of the Tamil people which has been granted to them.Samanta Krishnapillai, Founder of the On Canada Project
In 2009, the international community largely ignored (as in They Heard the Reports, and Didn’t Care) the rapidly escalating violence in Sri Lanka. Tamils today often refer to the Mullivaikkal massacre when talking about this period. I’m oversimplifying, but the Sri Lankan government has taken an aggressive approach to exterminating the Tamil Tigers, or LTTE, an organization that formed in response to state-sanctioned violence and discrimination suffered by Tamils since Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948.
Look, the Tigers get a lot of criticism, especially from people who have never had to fight to protect their human rights and indigenous lands. I accept that the Tigers were a flawed organization, but being a freedom fighter is a messy job where morals are often hazy as you try to achieve justice and human rights for your people. What I find frustrating with the popular criticism of the Tigers is that people often act as if the Tigers are politely asking the government for the release of the Tamils they have been granted.
The government declared the areas fire-free zones and urged civilians to take refuge there before shelling those same areas.Samanta Krishnapillai, Founder of the On Canada Project
The events of 2009 provided an opportunity for the government to exterminate Tamil civilians on the pretext of finding and blaming the Tamil Tigers. The government bombed hospitals, captured and executed 12 year old son of the LTTE leader, stripped civilians and soldiers when captured, then executed them while blindfolded and naked, soldiers raped women and children and shelled civilian bunkers. 300,000 people were in displacement camps, which at the time were the largest in the world. More infamously, the government declared the regions a fire-free zone and encouraged civilians to move there for security reasons before bombing those same areas. Entire multi-generational families were wiped out, children were orphaned, hundreds of thousands of people were injured and people remain missing to this day.
Leaked documents at the US Embassy show discussions between then Defense Security, now President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, during which the US Embassy urged the Sri Lankan government to agree to a mediated surrender, to which Rajapaksa said “we are beyond that now”. He was asked to allow time to evacuate the wounded and dead and he turned it down. It was clear to everyone watching that the government had the Tigers and innocent Tamil civilians on their knees and instead of ending the war they decided to try to end my people.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, by definition, is a war criminal. And yet, he succeeded his brother as president and remained so until he was recently ousted. The ousting of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Prime Minister will likely end the Rajapaksa dynasty (many of his family members hold important positions in his administration) which had been masquerading as a democracy for decades.
Watching Gotabaya be forced to flee was oddly cathartic, and yet it’s still a poor substitute for the justice our community deserves.Samanta Krishnapillai, Founder of the On Canada Project
My father said something interesting to me yesterday, in a rare expression of reflection on his experience of the 1983 riots. He said he was glad Rajapaksa had to flee his house as protesters seized it. He said he was happy that Rajapaksa had that fear, however brief, that so many Tamils have experienced in Sri Lanka to this day. Fear for the safety of your family, your property, your home, your dignity and your personal safety. The terror and trauma that is building in your heart.
For many members of the Tamil diaspora, myself included, seeing Gotabaya Rajapaksa being forced to flee was strangely cathartic, and yet, yet another poor substitute for the justice our community deserves.
So as you speak and report on these protests which culminated in the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, I ask you please not to erase his active participation and leadership in the genocide of the Tamil people of 2009 because corruption , violence and failures of Gotabaya as a leader before the current economic crisis.
After the eviction
There is something incredibly sticky about the fact that Tamils in Sri Lanka essentially live as second-class citizens on their ancestral lands. This has been going on for a long time but I will continue to focus on the 2009 genocide.
Protesting, and protesting in a disruptive way, is a privilege, and one certainly not afforded to Sri Lankan Tamils.Samanta Krishnapillai, Founder of the On Canada Project
I remember the images and stories that came out of Sri Lanka during the 2009 genocide and yet there was no mass protest, no show of solidarity. It was only when Gotabaya did something that directly impacted the majority group of the population, the Sinhalese, that a major demonstration of this nature has taken place. Protesting in this way is not something the Tamils of Sri Lanka outside the Jaffna region could have done in 2009 without the support of the Sinhalese people, because protesting, and protesting in a disruptive way, is a privilegedand which is certainly not granted to the Tamils of Sri Lanka.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Gotabaya had to leave goodbye, but that doesn’t change the discomfort of seeing people in Sri Lanka box take action, but not when their Tamil neighbors are massacred.
Once countries regain their independence from the very people who stole it, you will often see a division between communities of people from the land. Most of these divisions did not exist before colonization.Samanta Krishnapillai, Founder of the On Canada Project
The reason this wasn’t part of the original passage above (and was added later, after encouragement from a cousin) is that I don’t want to encourage further division between two communities of people, both of whom ancestors coexisted on our small island long before they were colonized Three times by European scum.
I to know that the colonial playbook includes “divide and impose”, meaning divide and conquer. Divide and impose is the systematic policy of formulating separate consciousnesses between the two communities, with the overt sponsorship of the colonizer. It is the intentional division and hatred between local ethnic groups by the colonizer so that these groups do not work together against their oppressor.
If you look around the world today, after countries have regained their independence from the very people who stole it, you will often see such division between communities of people who originated from the land. Most of these divisions did not exist before colonization. For example, the British intentionally orchestrated the division between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority in India during the colonization of India. Learn more about it here.
I do not see Tamil Canadians, who literally share a colonizer with the indigenous peoples of this land, coming forward in solidarity with the indigenous peoples.Samanta Krishnapillai, Founder of the On Canada Project
Also, I hesitate to criticize Sinhalese back home because I know Tamils aren’t perfect either. The land we now call Canada was also settled by the British, and the indigenous peoples of this land, First Nations, Métis and Inuit, live here essentially as second-class citizens, as in just this second.
And yet, I don’t see any Tamil Canadians, who literally share a colonizer with the indigenous peoples of this land, show up in solidarity with the indigenous peoples.
We may not have white privilege, but in Canada we benefit from having this land settled and even we do not use the privilege that allows us to stand in solidarity with communities systematically oppressed by our government, such as Indigenous, Black, and trans people, as well as people with disabilities and those living below the poverty line.
Knowing this, I find it hard to be angry with the Sinhalese people and choose instead to direct my frustration towards the media, the Sri Lankan government and of course, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family.
I hope by adding this passage, that Tamils, and really anyone whose ancestors were colonizedrealize that we have privileges in the colonial states in which our families took refuge.
We should use this privilege to both help our people back home and the indigenous peoples of our new home.