Wednesday 18 December 2013
Movement for equal rights (MER) held a meeting to commemorate the International Human Rights day on the 15th of December 2013 at Savoy court, North Harrow. A remarkable day indeed as Nelson Mandela was buried in South Africa on the same day. It was a good idea to commemorate human rights day as there are lot of human rights violations happening around the world and especially in Sri Lanka. In the introductory speech, we were reminded of that fact that many human rights violations were occurred in Sri Lanka past few decades. The speaker emphasized that, while those violations are happening country’s political leadership embarked on forcing new liberal economic policies on populace. The abstract form of the speech was later translated to Tamil by a member of the audience. Thereafter two speeches were done in Tamil by two gentlemen. Unfortunately there were no translations of these speeches to English or Sinhalese. So I cannot comment on any of the ideas of the learned speakers. I found this is rather disappointing. It is partially my own fault as I should have learned Tamil, but as a speaker of three languages myself, however I think I never had a good chance to learn that language. I am sorry about that fact (about myself), but I think organizers should have provided the translation.
Then we had, as a general "habit" of many other Front Line Socialist party organised meetings I have attended "the eminent call to Sri Lanka" via skype. As usual, with many delays we had the convener of the Movement for Equal Rights in Sri Lanka on the line with his translator. He spoke in Sinhalese and we had a Tamil translator there. Well done. I wouldn't find anything different he said about what's happening in Sri Lanka, compare to the lecture given by Mr KG in one of the first meetings last year or the speech by the first speaker earlier on. In the first meeting of MER Mr Gunarathnam eloquently spelled out problems facing Sri Lankan population regarding human rights and how nationalistic parties supporting this with their unabated nationalism. The current convener of MER repeated the same ideals except he added the TNA to the equation as well. According to him TNA is as nationalistic as UNP. There are no arguments about that. UNP MPs were trying to score nationalistic points regarding MP Sridharan's speech last few weeks. I may not condone the separatism and MP Sridharan's nationalistic course or the UNP MPS replies, however I am clear about the rights of the Tamil people to live in dignity and respect in their own land. Whether we called it self-determination or limited autonomy or fully powered provincial council is mere a formality. While we should oppose the TNA's nationalist position, we must not forget that, they are the most vociferous advocates for the Tamil people's rights in Northern and Eastern provinces at this moment in time. They are getting the wrath of the government, armed forces and southern media for that matter. Do the MER wanted to jump into that same band wagon?
We were allowed to ask few questions and few did. One of them was Comrade Nirmala Rajasinghem. She did not identify herself. I think presidium should have recognized work done by her in human rights front and her role as one of the founding members of the Sri Lankan Democracy forum and frequent writer to the Open Democracy website. She was the first women to be detained under the prevention of terrorism act according to Open Democracy website and I remember she was freed by the LTTE from Welikada prison. (reference: http://www.opendemocracy.net/authors/nirmala-rajasingam) She left the LTTE due to its serious human-rights abuses and also LTTE was accused of assassinating her sister, a well-known human rights activist Rajini Thiranagama. Rajini was one of the founding members of University Teachers of Human rights (Jaffna). Her question was answered but not required level of authority or assurance by the organiser or the Convener of the forum. This is a serious lapse on their part, as obviously they haven't done their homework.
There was a Muslim gentlemen who asked what the objectives of the MER as it was not clear to him, and he has said he converted himself to Islamic religious person from a Marxist and he would like to know what MER thinks about Muslim issues radicalised by the young Muslims. He particularly wanted to know what the MER's stance about Niqab is. This is an important issue as, even though I assume myself to be a leftist I am against women wearing niqab. Niqab for me a garment of suppression of women by male dominated society and I would not like anyone to force women to wear a niqab. Most of the Muslim countries lack basic human rights and most countries do not allow women to drive, Marry on their will, there are also many honour killings as well. I am also against segregation of women and men in lecture halls at British Universities. But I would have liked to listen to this gentlemen and if his opinion is fair than I would have agreed with it. There were no time to accommodate his request and reply from presidium was "working Class Struggle". Apparently MER is there to facilitate working class struggle and unite the masses for it. There I was thinking Front Line Socialist party's main objective was to unite and lead the working class in Sri Lanka.
I would like to emphasize the fact that I would not undermine anyway the organizers hard work to get the people into these forums and organize such an event. They put themselves in the line of fire while organising these events. Convener of MER and his Tamil translator may even put themselves in danger (as shown in the recent past in Jaffna and Trincomalee) when they are courageously taking part in rallies, demonstrations and discussions.
However in this whole period of time apart from mentioning disappearances of Lalith Kumar Veeraraj and Kuhan Muruganandhan they have not mention any other specific human rights violations by the state. Very recently Sri Lankan police gunned down suspects of a crime without resorting to lawful path. This happens very often and torture of suspects in Police Stations across the country is ripe. They have mentioned the land grab of the North but failed to mention any concrete places they are happening. These are important. When we level an allegation then we should back them up with facts. What we need is not an another forum, discussion with Skype connection and continually repeat same points over and over as in a political rally. What they need is to research the subject of the discussion more and allow the people to air their opinions and handle the discussion forum. Then formulate the response at the end of the forum with the approval of the majority. What is not clear is, what they have achieved here except just to show "headquarters" that they had organised a meeting.