Army ‘Kadaigals’ in the North - Bane or Boon?


I read Jehan Perera’s take on "Economic and political costs of over extending military role". Perera is an NGO spokesman who used to demand that the Army be confined to the barracks, even during the peak of Tiger mayhem. So, his views on the military in the North should surprise none.

‘Policy alternative to the war’

Consider the view of Tamils who do not own land near Colombo (or Toronto!). They have been working on Peria Dorei’s land or at his business for a pittance since colonial times. They were conscripted to fight the battles orchestrated by the Tigers and funded from London or Toronto. How could they care about  "Arasu", "language" or "University Entrance", when their children were denied decent schools or a fair-wage job.  The poor Sinhalese youth were also hit by the Eelam wars. The youth  of the social class of Jehan Perera were not involved in the war. They remained sceptical of the military option. "Keep the army in the barracks, let us have talks, and graciously  give Prabha the few hectares of dry zone that he is clamouring for"; this was the "policy alternative" to war proclaimed by Jehan-Perera types.  This suited the mercantile and military interests of the west. The lot of the Tamils under a Tiger Megalomaniac was irrelevant to the "polished" civil society.  They wanted to punish the rioting Sinhala-‘yokels’ who usurped the power of the Colombo class since 1956. Prabhakaran was surely the ideal cat’s paw.

Ending war and mending North

The determined attack against the Tigers worked. Some 300,000 IDPs were forcibly taken to Nandikadal by the retreating Tigers. They escaped when the army broke the Tiger-built earth bunds. That was in May 2009. The IDPs had to be fed, medically treated, and separated from terrorists. The TNA and their "civil society friends" flashed pictures of barbed wire fences of welfare centres claiming that they were Nazi concentration camps; they wanted the IDPs released immediately. However, by all honest accounts the government did a great and humane job, unaided by the Tamil Diaspora or the TNA which claimed that those were torture camps. Tiger money was no doubt used to buy out some Tigers who arrived in the West onboard smuggler-ships.

The LTTE employed some tactics such as destroying the Kilinochchi water tower and roofs of houses so that the people were left with no alternative but to go with the retreating Tigers. If the IDPs had returned to such war-torn villages with no infra-structure or economic activity, the tragedy would have been colossal. Even in New Orleans, the US, many victims of Hurricane Katrina have not yet got houses or employment to date. Lanka’s North has done far better!  The immediate, able-bodied engine of reconstruction is the military. This was like in Japan after WW-II. Even five years after WW-II, goods from Japan were labelled ‘made in occupied Japan’. The factories were initially run by the US army, and handed over to the Japanese business under strict rules. The Marshal Plan in Germany was administered jointly by the allied-forces and US banks initially. This practice was followed in South Korea.   

Economic factor

The presence of the army provides a client base for goods and services supplied by the working Tamils. The Colombo Tamils or the Diaspora cannot be the engine of growth in those areas. What is amazing is that in Jaffna today, even lawyers’ offices remain open till 11 pm. The Tamils go about in the night without fear. Street bazaars are a hive of activity well beyond normal hours. The presence of the Sinhalese adds the non-traditional influence needed to break the power of the old Peria Dorei caste. Jehan Perera does not like it!

If the army personnel are discharged, they will fall into the sorry state of war veterans in the US or Canada. The veterans of the West are ‘army surplus’ are vulnerable to trauma, violence and alcoholism. In Sri Lanka, the army has jobs in the North running ‘kadaigal’ or even beauty salons. In the South, they dredge canals or clear slums. In effect, soldiers are weaned from their military habits, given a new vocation and reintegrated into society. A socially myopic UN-expert may say "this is financially inefficient". However, within a holistic social picture, we see that the force of circumstances has produced the correct solution to a horrendous post-war problem.

Sebastian Rasalingam,


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