BOOKS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
WAR AND MEDICINE, by Thuyavan with John Whitehall
, May 16, 2009
The Tamil struggle for survival in Sri LankaWAR AND MEDICINE
by Thuyavan with John Whitehall
(Danville, California: Dr T. Sanmuganathan)
Hardback: 196 pages
RRP: AUD$24.95 (incl. postage)
The Australian Medical Aid Foundation,
33 LLandillo Ave,
Strathfield NSW 2135.War and Medicine
tells the tragic story of the medical personnel who participated in the Sri Lankan civil war between the Tamil minority and their Sinhalese oppressors.
The book's Australian co-author, Dr John Whitehall, visited Sri Lanka in 2004 and 2005 and, while there, first met the Tamils who are engaged in an apparently hopeless struggle for survival against the more numerous Sinhalese.History
A brief outline of the history of the Tamils in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is necessary to understand the current struggle.
The people of Sri Lanka are thought to be descended from settlers who originated in northern India in the 6th century BC. Their religion was Buddhism. At some time in the 14th century AD, a Tamil kingdom was established in northern Sri Lanka, which was predominantly Hindu. The Tamils were ethnically different from the Sinhalese, and had a different language and culture, but constitute a significant minority (19 per cent) of the population.
The Tamils themselves are divided into two groups: Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian Tamils, who were brought in to work in Sri Lanka's famous tea plantations.
The original European colonists, the Portuguese and the Dutch, administered the Tamil north separately from the Sinhalese south; but after Ceylon was ceded by the Dutch to the British during the Napoleonic Wars, the British established a central administration, based in Colombo.
After independence, the majority Sinhalese population established a unitary government which marginalised the Tamil minority, leading to calls for regional autonomy which were ignored for years by the central government. A policy of repression of the Tamils followed, with hundreds of thousands of Indian Tamils forced to return to India, widespread killing of Tamils and the destruction of their villages.
This prompted a violent reaction from the Tamil minority, leading to the formation in 1976 of the Tamil Tigers who have waged a bloody war against the central government, seeking independence for the predominantly Tamil north and east of the island, in a state called Tamil Eelam, with its capital at Jaffna.
The Tamils have been deserted by everyone. Pakistan and China have actively supported the central government, while Indian peace-keepers who were brought in to end the fighting, also repressed the Tamil separatists.
It is sad to recount how the embattled Tamils have waged a desperate struggle for independence against overwhelming force, often resorting to the same tactics as those of the Sinhalese, for which they have been described as terrorists.
This book is a first-hand account of the effort to provide medical services in the Tamil-controlled parts of the country during the bitter civil war which has been going on for the past 30 years.
The principal author, Dr Thuyavan, is the head of the medical corps within the Tamil community. This book is an account of his efforts to provide medical services to both civilians and the military, in the face of overwhelming odds. What is surprising is that, despite their isolation and the apparently overwhelming force of the Sri Lankan army, the Tamils have continued to fight on.
Latest media reports have described how Government troops have now completely encircled the last enclaves of the Tamil Tigers in north-east Sri Lanka, and are intent on destroying them.
However, the spirit of resistance of the Tamil people will undoubtedly continue to exist, because of the ruthless persecution to which they have been subjected.
One need only remember how the enslaved peoples of Eastern Europe eventually regained their independence once the yoke of the Soviet Union was thrown off in the early 1990s.
Dr John Whitehall, who has provided humanitarian relief to people in Sri Lanka regardless of ethnic or political persuasion, has written a moving introduction which suggests a way out of the current situation, other than the military solution which will ultimately backfire.Lack of concern
After pointing to both the Australian government and the media's lack of concern for the suffering Tamil people, he says, "I could not understand why the Australian government appeared to focus on the actions of the LTTE [Tamil Tigers] without consideration of the terror inflicted by the Colombo state.
"By emphasising the terror of one side, it gives encouragement to the other. As the government of Sri Lanka seems to be inexorably increasing the momentum for all-out war, to indirectly encourage that government is to be part of the slaughter.
"And after observing the resolve of the Tamils on Hero's Day, to push them to fight for their lives will mean slaughter for both sides, soldiers and civilians."
He concludes, "I believe the Australian government should urge the creation of some kind of federal sharing of power in Sri Lanka. ... We should insist on peace."