In the context of a politically explosive situation and great political pressures created by a looming defeat of government forces in their war against Tamil rebels, a coalition of left parties, including the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP), the Sri Lankan section of the Fourth International, led a demonstration May 25 of 3000 people against the regime’s war and repression in Colombo, the capital of the island country.
After about half an hour, the demonstration was dispersed by police using water cannon and clubs. But it made an impact that amounted to a serious blow to the government and its war propaganda. The major slogans were “Down with oppressive regulations!” “Down with censorship!” “No to racism!” “Down with the war!” “No foreign forces!”
The largest population group on the island are Sinhalese, who are of northern Indian origin, speak an Indo-European language, and are Buddhist in religion. The main minority are Tamils, of southern Indian origin, who speak a Dravidian language and are mainly Hindu in religion.
Historically, there has been a racial division between the northern and southern Indian populations, which has been the basis for a kind of racism against the southerners, who sometimes call themselves “Black Indians.”
There are two main groups of Tamils, the community that existed before the British conquest and workers brought from southern India by colonialist plantation owners. Tamils predominate in the northeastern coastal area, including the Jafna peninsula, where the rebels want to create a Tamil homeland, Tamil Eelam.
In recent weeks, the Tamil rebels have seemed poised to recapture the major town in the area, Jafna, and to trap large government forces in the Jafna peninsula. The Indian government has been hinting about intervening, at least to evacuate the cornered Sri Lankan military. That is the reason for the slogan against foreign troops in the May 25 Colombo demonstration.
In the past, India sent troops to rescue the Sinhalese government from defeat at the hands of the Tamil rebels. In retaliation, a Tamil suicide bomber assassinated the then Indian premier, Rajiv Gandhi. India’s intervention reflects its fear of an insurgent movement coming to power in the region.
Also there is a large Tamil population in southern India, long restive under the rule of a predominately northern Indian government, and among whom there is considerable sympathy for the Tamil rebels on the adjacent island.
The war in Sri Lanka was begun by pogroms against Tamil people launched by Sinhalese chauvinists. The Tamil insurgency has been fueled by desperate resistance to a virtual genocidal campaign, including attempts to settle Sinhalese in Tamil areas.
Sinhalese chauvinism has also become the mainstay of the political rule of the neocolonial bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka. In the latest crisis, the Sri Lanka government has used the war as a pretext for introducing censorship and other repressive measures.
In a statement issued immediately after the Colombo demonstration, Dr. Vickramabahu Karunarthne, general secretary of the NSSP, issued a statement stressing that his party had “always campaigned against any support to the insane war efforts of the government, and we say only a solution based on equality, autonomy, and the right of self-determination will be the answer to the liberation war of the Tamil people.”