|The Sri Lankan Conflict- A Multi-Polar Approach|
Federalism: The Magic Solution?
According to Sri Lankan government estimates, Sinhalese were 75 percent, Sri Lankan Tamils were 11.9 percent, Indian or hill country Tamils 4.6 percent, and Muslims (Moors and Malays) were 8.2 percent of the island's total population in 2001. According to other estimates, the percentage of Sri Lankan Tamils is less or the same as for the Muslims, i.e. 8 percent of the total population. The proportions of the two communities -Sri Lankan Tamil and Muslim- will keep decreasing and increasing if present trends continue. The emigration of people from the north and the east has steadily increased due to the war and LTTE terrorism. The majority of Tamils in Sri Lanka live amidst the Sinhalese and the Muslims in the multicultural southern areas of the island. In other words, the Tamil community now is more an island-wide rather than a regional minority. These demographic and multicultural realities undermine the separatist argument that an exclusive Tamil northeastern region is required for the Tamils to live in safety apart from the Sinhalese.
Some 800,000, that is, more than 25 percent, of Sri Lankan Tamils are now part of the Diaspora. Toronto is believed to be the largest Sri Lankan Tamil city in the world. Much of the financial (about 90 percent) and ideological support for the LTTE comes from the Tamil Diaspora elite and the worldwide Tamil community, making the Sri Lankan separatist struggle a transnational phenomenon increasingly removed from domestic realities. The 're-drawing of the ethnic map of Sri Lanka' calls into question the justice of granting one-third of the island exclusively to the small population of Sri Lankan Tamils, especially when increasing numbers of them are no longer living in the areas erroneously claimed as the 'traditional Tamil homelands'.
For most of the long history of the island, tolerance and mutual coexistence have been the predominant characteristics of inter-group relations, not enmity and conflict. During the course of the war, two broad patterns of ethnic relations have emerged: a mono-ethnic policy in the north and ethnic pluralism in the south. Some 100,000 Muslims and a smaller number of Sinhalese were driven out of the Northern Province by the LTTE's ethnic-cleansing campaign, making it imperative that any solution to the separatist conflict take into account Muslim and Sinhala rights to the north and the east and their opposition to Tamil regional autonomy. are . Despite the most gruesome LTTE massacres of Sinhala and Muslim civilians in the Eastern Province, it has maintained its multiethnic-Muslim, Tamil, and Sinhala-character, but, given historical settlement patterns that enhance mutual coexistence, attempts to artificially carve out exclusive ethnic enclaves by Tamil or Muslim separatists could lead to greater upheaval and suffering.
Given the dominant Sinhala vs. Tamil dualism, few studies have explored the common political-economic issues facing youth across the different communities. While 'ethnic tensions' exist, they have been 'exacerbated by the ongoing conflict'. As one study noted, Tamil and Sinhalese youth have 'similar major concerns and 'reducing the potential of violent conflict to ethnic discrimination belies the complexities of social discrimination and the very real lack of adequate employment and livelihoods of youth both'. Indeed, the broadening of the global discourse on conflict requires moving beyond ethnic dualism and cultural identity to considering socio-economic inequities at the local, regional and international levels as well as the patterns of pluralism and coexistence and the changing ethnic distribution on the island.
A sustainable solution to the Sri Lankan conflict 'must take into account issues of poverty and property rather than seek to extend the interests of international corporations'. Indeed, decentralization of power needs to be carried in a way that allows local people-Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims-greater control over regional resources and decisions over governance. The creation of separate ethno-nationalist regions is not a panacea. A policy that only breaks up the unitary, centralized Sri Lankan state through a form of federalism and grants Tamil regional autonomy is unlikely to address these fundamental issues of economic democracy and political participation that are important to all Sri Lankans, not just a single ethnic group.
(Asoka Bandarage is currently a professor at Georgetown University . She has taught at Yale, Brandeis and Mount Holyoke, and is the author of Colonialism in Sri Lanka, Women, Population and Global Crisis and publications on South Asia, global political economy, ethnicity, gender and population. This article is derived from her forthcoming book, The Separatist Conflict in Sri Lanka: Broadening the Discourse)
(By: Asoka Bandarage)
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