Saluting the Security Forces
The wars that need to be
remembered in post-colonial Sri Lanka are all wars within the nation and
between Sri Lankans themselves. The executors of the actual armed
conflicts are the State armed forces on the one hand and, on the other,
various anti-State armed groups fighting for different causes.
The armed forces of a nation-State are the instrument for the
ultimate protection of the nation and its political entity, the State.
When the armed forces are used by the government of the time as a
coercive and enforcement instrument against any segment of the
population of that nation-state or against any anti-state armed group
with the country, there is a complexity that cannot be easily resolved
although that complexity could cause confusion about the moral and
social legitimacy of such use within a country.
Even if some sections of the population and their political or even
governmental leadership may insist that theirs is the 'right' reason for
the deployment of the armed forces for such a purpose, those social
groups who become the victims and targets for such internal military
deployment may perceive such deployment as a betrayal of the collective
sovereignty of the whole nation.
No amount of diversion about 'terrorism' and 'international
conspiracy' can hide the truth about serious and unresolved grievances
of a social group within a society. How a nation sets about dealing with
such grievances will necessarily signify the relative importance given
to all of the various communities and classes within a society and
If those persistently raising those grievances are ignored and, when
they get more vociferous, are forcibly suppressed and, when, finally,
some of the more desperate elements resort to armed struggle and are
then even more forcibly defeated, those in that social group are not
easily ready to see that 'victory' as a victory in which they, too,
This victory by the State armed forces, if celebrated as a victory by
one ethnic community, but not so by other ethnic communities belonging
to the nation, then becomes hollow and self-defeating. Indeed, the huge
endeavours of the armed forces at the behest of the government, become
seriously devalued, if not meaningless, if their endeavours are not
appreciated by any segment of the population - indeed, segments whose
tax contributions also pay for the military effort. This complicated and
confusing deployment of the Sri Lankan armed forces by the governments
of the day has occurred not just once but in three distinct phases - if
overlapping - of our recent history.
It happened in 1971 when a Centre-Left regime deployed the police and
armed forces to crush the first rebellion by a movement of impoverished
and socially marginalised rural and semi-rural youth. That regime
included the biggest Marxist parties of the day claiming to represent
both the working class and peasantry.
It happened again in the 1987-1990 period when the second and
bloodier southern rural youth insurgency was crushed even more bloodily
with many complaints of human rights violations - and none other than
Mahinda Rajapaksa running to complain to the UN in Geneva. The third
crushed internal rebellion was the ethnic minority-based secessionist
insurgency that began in the mid-1970s and ended with the military
defeat of the LTTE in May 2009. The injustices that occurred along with
this insurgency and counter-insurgency were many and perpetrated by all
sides with Mahinda Rajapaksa harassing and demonising those who
complained to Geneva.
In all of these painful conflicts so internal to our island society,
the national political leaderships failed to resolve the issues in a
manner that preserved social unity, avoided war and assured justice even
at a minimum level. Rather, amid abject failure, successive governments
resorted to the military option.
It has been the armed forces of the country that have to do the
'dirty work' left over by the failure of the political authorities. And
the armed forces were compelled to implement military operations within
the country not so much according to military doctrine and professional
practice but according to the electoral timetables and vote bank
strategies of the political class. Decades of such incoherent political
and social management and opportunistic use of the military for partisan
politics, has resulted in the police and armed forces themselves
becoming dangerously rife with indiscipline and brutish behaviour.
To their credit, however, both the police and the forces have
resisted such inroads of corrupt politics and held their respective
banners high in the face of despotic demands and conspiracy to hang on
to governmental power.
Indeed the changed behaviour of the security forces with the onset of
the reformist 'good governance' regime led by Maithripala Sirisena and
Ranil Wickremesinghe, is remarkable and evidences the finer capabilities
of the military and the police that are being drawn out now that they
are no longer forced by politicians to ignore laws and obey political
diktats. The entire nation will appreciate what can only be a resurgence
of a genuine honour and integrity of the 'defenders of the nation' that
seems to be occurring under the current government.
May 2009 is remembered by many in this country in different ways. The
troops that, at the behest of desperate politicos, slogged it out in the
battlefields of the Vanni, will remember proudly their military triumph.
Those who also recall crude violations and brutalities occurring in the
heat of combat against a politically demonised 'enemy' will, no doubt,
hang their heads in regret. The families of the soldiers who died in
battle will commemorate their loved ones.
The families of those on the 'other side' - of the rebel militants of
1971, of 1987-90 and 1975-2009 will commemorate their loved ones. Those
militants who have survived these rebellions will, no doubt, also recall
their prowess but, hopefully, will also recall their coldblooded brutal
excesses with remorse.
The biggest number of casualties in all these wars that have bloodied
our 'resplendent isle' is among the non-combatant civilian population
both North and South. The families of all these civilian dead and maimed
must remember them and will.
These remembrances need more than just a single day. They need
concrete actions of social rehabilitation, social and economic recovery
support, cultural revival and political settlement for Remembrance to be
truly meaningful and healing.