New Delhi: After 26 years as a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee in India, M. Sakkariyas has learned the art of not expecting too much of the future, and he discusses the end of Velupillai Prabhakaran and his Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) placidly. “The problems that the LTTE has created will now stop, and for that we are happy,” he says. “But there are still other problems to solve.”
Sakkariyas is the head of advocacy at the Organisation for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR), which was founded in Chennai 25 years ago, almost to the day, by a refugee lawyer named S.C. Chandrahasan. Sakkariyas was the assistant labour commissioner in Sri Lanka in the early 1980s until, like Chandrahasan and other prominent Tamils, he received threats to his life and fled to India.
OfERR has since worked with the nearly 75,000 Tamil refugees in 114 camps in Tamil Nadu, refugees who, Chandrahasan says, have never lost their hope of going back home.
Displaced: Tamil refugees in a camp in Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka. Reuters
But it is too early to comment on that prospect, Sakkariyas maintains. The refugees can only return if there is “a complete, just political settlement”. Until they are sure of that, he adds, the future will still look cloudy.
“The Sri Lankan government says the war is over, and that they have brought peace and democracy, but look what happened to the Eastern Province,” Sakkariyas says. The Eastern Provinces were wrested from LTTE control last year. “There is no war as such, but real democracy has not yet come. The orders still come from Colombo.”
Sakkariyas acknowledges that Prabhakaran’s death will strike an emotional chord in the refugee community, even though OfERR has maintained a delicate balance between espousing the Tamil humanitarian cause while decrying the LTTE’s terrorism.
“It is true that he was the undisputed leader of a system, and when he is killed, that system will fall, and from that the Tamils will benefit,” he says. “But half the people who have come here as refugees are from the fishing community, as was Prabhakaran. So the feeling will be, they have not only lost a leader but also one of their relatives. It will take one or two months for that sentimental feeling to fade.”
For Tamil Nadu’s pro-LTTE organizations, it might be even longer. K. Thyagarajan, founder of the Tamil Nation Liberation Movement (TNLM), refuses at first to speculate on Prabhakaran’s death. “He has said he would stand and fight till the very end,” he says. “In that case, is it likely that he was fleeing in an ambulance? I don’t think so.”
Thyagarajan insists there is no such thing as a post-LTTE scenario. “Just because the leadership is gone, it doesn’t mean that the LTTE itself is gone,” he says, pointing out the possibility of “sleeper cells” of uncaptured Tigers. “They are still the legitimate representatives of the Tamils, particularly because they are uncompromised, they stood until the death.”
Thyagarajan does admit that the future of the Tamil movement may lie more in political rather than militaristic strategies. “There are intellectual cadres across the world that can return to Sri Lanka and lead the LTTE in a political struggle,” he says. “There are times to turn back and look at the path travelled, and perhaps this is one of those times.”