Massive meeting in Chennai of campaign to stop Tamil slaughter in Sri Lanka-Venkat Narasimham

Author Arundathi Roy’s statement gets national and international coverage

Venkat Narasimham, New Socialist Alternative (CWI- India)

On Monday 30th March, it felt as if the city of Chennai waited with intense expectation as the famous writer, Arundhati Roy, was due to deliver a speech in a public meeting condemning the war in Sri Lanka. Her views on globalisation, imperialism and war were all too clear. But she had raised many an eyebrow and irked many a person with her strong condemnation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s methods, calling them a terrorist organisation.

Sharing the platform with her was to be Siritunga Jayasuriya, a leading member of a Sri Lankan political party (the United Socialist Party, affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International).

What line would the speakers argue? What would their demands be? What is the character of this campaign that is putting them on the stage? These were the burning questions of many a person. 

Tamil Nadu, with its close ethnic ties to Sri Lankan Tamils, has always been a strong base of support (moral, political and material) to the Tamil rebels. Strong nationalistic tendencies dominate the political scene voicing demands for a separate Tamil Eelam without acknowledging the complexities of the issue. There is, on the other hand, a significant few who believe that any support to Eelam is an undeclared and indirect support to LTTE, who they consider to be a terrorist organisation with fascist attitudes.

The campaign (stoptheslaughteroftamils.org) has attracted a lot of criticism from groups tied up with these two extreme positions. Some political groups went to the extent of canvassing people against participating in the meeting. But we were sure that we would be able to convince the critics with our strong ideas. The demands of the campaign, based on strong humanitarian and full democratic values, were a result of a fine grasp of the situation on the ground and the experience that comes with the long history of our struggle internationally. We were sure of our success.

Arundathi Roy’s powerful statement

The day dawned with the disappointing news that Arundhati Roy, the main speaker, would not be able to attend the meeting personally. But, at the behest of the campaign, she released a strong and severe indictment of the Rajapakse regime. Calling for an immediate end to the slaughter; she called it a racist war that was taking genocidal proportions. Carried in full by the Times of India, the statement had already made a mark. It had attracted nearly 100 comments within a few hours of its publication.

Nearly 600 people assembled for the meeting well before time. Students and workers, political activists, and concerned citizens had come to listen to the speakers. Professor A. Marx, the convenor of the Tamil Nadu section of the Campaign presented the demands of the campaign with a clarification as to the nature of the campaign and its vital need.

Sudha Gandhi, a student activist, while calling for the immediate end to the war, stated very clearly that a permanent ceasefire was impossible without a just political solution and that it was ridiculous to ask one side to put down their weapons while another continues to wield the same with impunity.

Sathya Sivaraman, a journalist and human rights campaigner, presented the fuller ramifications of this war, piecing together the geo-politics of this conflict and the need for the people of entire South Asia to respond against this unjust war. His insistence on the demand for a political solution based on the inalienable right of self-determination of the Tamil people clarified our stated position. The audience began to respond to his ideas and he was more than once interrupted by applauses.

Siritunga Jayasuriya of the USP detailed how the present regime in Sri Lanka systematically prepared for war and steadily destroyed any democratic opposition. Concluding his address, he called for the one billion plus population of India to raise a united voice against this unjust war.

(Since the meeting, India’s prime minister, Sonja Ghandi appears to have been forced by the publicity around it to make a statement about relations with Sri Lanka. Eds.)

Taking the campaign forward

As the speeches came to an end there was a lot of excitement among the audience with small informal groups forming around the speakers for greater clarity and more debate. There were arguments and criticisms of our stand, but we had successfully argued for our demands and had called for a united international struggle against the Sri Lankan government. The issue had spread nationally and the impact of the meeting could be gauged from the fact that the Sri Lanka Foreign Office quickly drafted a counter to Arundhati Roy, claiming lamely that she does not have the full facts and their war was only against the LTTE.

In the teeth of criticisms and opposition from some sections of the political movements, the campaign had successfully presented our demands. The campaign had gained momentum in our sustained struggle for the inalienable rights of the Tamils as well as the struggle of the Sinhala working class against an undemocratic bourgeois regime. We are looking forward with hope towards the coming days to strengthen, widen and deepen the campaign and the struggle so that the war comes to a just end and the people of Sri Lanka are liberated from the clutches of regimes that survive on terror.

We are also keen to see the impact of the international day of protest next Wednesday, 8 April.

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