It has been reported that the government is about to commence a project to rehabilitate former LTTE combatants. Sri Lanka has, indeed, had the experience of rehabilitating those who took up arms against the state. That was in 1971, when the JVP staged their first uprising. Those whose services were obtained to ‘convert’ the JVP rank and file had to counter their ideology and bring them around to abandoning their cause. It would be recalled that the JVP indoctrinated the youth through five lessons. It analyzed the causes of the unrest among the youth and advocated the overthrow of the government as the remedy. The first lesson was about the scarcity of land for the peasantry, the second dealt with the independence which they claimed was meaningless to the poor, the third dealt with Indian expansionism (referring to the problem of Indian labour in the hill country), the fourth was the failure of the Left movement and the final lesson was on the revolution they were planning and the take over of power. The government of the day had a two-pronged approach to the problem. To militarily crush the uprising and deal with the ideology of the JVP. It is important to admit that though that uprising was crushed and those who survived were rehabilitated, we had yet another uprising seventeen years later when another generation of rural youth took up arms against the state with terrible consequences. The government of the day appointed a Youth Commission to look into the causes and some of the problems of our youth which led them to revolt were addressed.
Likewise, it is important for us to identify the factors that produce terrorists if we are to arrive at ways of rehabilitating them and of preventing ethnic terrorism in the future. It is a fact that there is a feeling of alienation among the Tamils of this country, whether for social, economic, political, or psychological reasons—this feeling of alienation is shared by the Tamil youth who took up arms against the State and indulged in terrorism. It should be recalled that Tamil agitation, which began particularly after 1956, took a violent form some twenty years later.
It needs to be conceded that individuals who become terrorists feel alienated from society. This alienation was the product of a particular perception and resulted from distinct social, economic, political, and psychological factors or a combination of them. The person who drifts into terrorism, then, feels himself to be an outsider. His self-perception as an a member of a community, that he felt has been estranged from the political mainstream in his country and discriminated against and that he is sacrificing himself for the cause of his people was personally satisfying. These impressionable youth considered the situation unjust and were in fact prepared to sacrifice themselves and commit suicide for the cause they believed in. Is there any appeal that we could make that would recondition their minds. Would they not be bitter and be consumed with hate because their leader has been killed and the LTTE vanquished? These are indeed the people we seek to rehabilitate, it is indeed an enormous challenge.
The experience of other countries may be useful, but each situation being different it seems unlikely that any ‘package’, which has been used successfully elsewhere, would be successful in this situation. There would be a few new comers to the cause who could be weaned away but it is most unlikely that the large majority would respond to religious appeals or economic incentives.
In this regard, it is of interest to recall the five forms of ‘classical’ rehabilitation. The first mode is Psychological Rehabilitation, countering the anger of the terrorist in this instance, yes we may succeed to an extent to change the conditioned minds of some but not of the majority, the second is Religious Rehabilitation, the third is Vocational and Educational rehabilitation, the fourth, Social Rehabilitation through the use of interaction with the families of the terrorists and lastly the fifth, namely Cultural Rehabilitation through the use of Art, Drama, Music, films and sport.
It would be seen that none of these so-called ‘classical modes’ address the real issue. The real issue is the political issue, the fact that the Tamil Community feels alienated and these LTTE cadres who took up arms rightly or wrongly on their behalf must be convinced that the government is seriously addressing the issue, this is the reality if a sustainable peace is to be achieved. Let us by all means reach out and have Counselling by competent Psychiatrists, seek to re-inculcate religious values, introduce training and education (in this regard introducing English as the medium of instruction in all schools in the Northern and Eastern Provinces would contribute towards eroding the charges of discrimination and inadequate provision of educational facilities), using Culture (Music , Drama, Films and Sports)would also be a good mode of reaching out but all this is only patch-work and a plastering exercise and we would only be fooling ourselves. We MUST address the real issue by proving by deed that no citizen of this country would be alienated, marginalized or made to feel that they do not have equal opportunity as the rest of us. Tamil is an official language in this country after 1987, let us ensure that it is implemented. Today our citizens in Jaffna and the North and East are still receiving letters from government departments in Sinhala, our Tamil citizens are still unable to make an entry at a Police station (other than at three Police stations), no Tamil only speaking citizen can transact business at our post offices (the state of some of them eg. the Kollupitiya PO must be seen to be believed). This is a situation that should be corrected as soon as possible, the full implementation of the 13th Amendment plus or minus should be undertaken at the earliest, (further Amendments could come after the President receives a mandate after the next Presidential election) this would also contribute not only towards national security but also towards regional stability at a time when terrorism is assuming forms and proportions that are a threat to international peace and security. We need also to take account of the fact that many foreign countries are seeking to use the UN to interfere in our internal affairs to gain domestic political mileage by exploiting our differences. We cannot also wish away the international interest or the interest of the Tamil expatriate lobbies, which have become quite influential, operating out of the ‘West’, or the Tamil Nadu factor or India’s interest in Sri Lanka.
Just as much as Diplomacy is internationally accepted as the first line of defence, we must understand that our security cannot be ensured by military means alone, as has been proved by Israel’s history. Israeli settlements in Palestinian land and Israel holding on to the Golan Heights, claiming that it is for her security, has only exacerbated the problem not secured greater security for that country. We need to address the principal issue that was the cause of the war that has taken the lives of over seventy thousand lives and wreaked havoc on this country since the early 1970s. It is in our country’s interest to settle this problem once and for all time. The Tamil politicians who were opposed to the LTTE’s separatist war must be co-opted to find a permanent solution before this festering wound turns cancerous.