When conflict turns to terror
By K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore, 2002
The most important order of business for the new government headed by J R Jayewardene was the drawing up of a new Constitution. During the opening of Parliament in August 1977, Jayewardene repeated his earlier promise, “an All-Party Conference will be summoned to consider the problem of the non-Sinhalese speaking people and the decision of the conference will be included in the Constitution”.
Unfortunately, this promise was not kept by Jayewardene. There always existed a wide gap between the promises and performance of the Sinhalese leaders. It is a sickening reality, in the realpolitik of Sri Lanka. Earlier, it was told that the solutions recommended in an All Party Conference were to be incorporated in the new Constitution. In contrast to that assurance, the TULF was requested to participate in the Select Committee of the Parliament to recommend a new Constitution. Since the government had gone back on its pledge to summon an All Party Conference, the TULF rejected government’s offer of participation in the Parliamentary Select Committee on the drafting of the constitution.
The UNP took necessary steps to implement the mandate, it claimed that the party had come up with it in its manifesto, and obtained authorization from a section of the Sinhalese voters to draft, adopt, and operate a new Republican Constitution. But, the TULF failed to take any concrete steps to work toward a completely different mandate, one it had received overwhelmingly from the Tamil-speaking voters in the country.
From the very start of the UNP’s initiation of the drafting of the constitution, the TULF’s relations with the government turned bitter. The TULF boycotted the Select Committee proceedings, but S Thondaman, the leader of the CWC, participated and took an active part in the constitution making process, undertaken by the government. He submitted a memorandum, which dealt clearly on very important aspects, such as language, citizenship, and human rights. He also made an oral presentation to the Select Committee. He persuaded the government to do away with the distinction between registered citizens and citizens through descent. He also urged that plantation workers be given the right to vote in the local government elections.
Besides the controversy surrounding the 1972 Republican Constitution about its legality, another most unfortunate aspect of the constitution concerned was its provisions regarding the repeal and replacement of the Constitution. Clauses 51(1) and (2) of the Constitution provided special procedures for laws for amend, repeal and replace the constitution with a new one. And Clause 51 (2) states: “No bill for the repeal of the Constitution shall be placed on the Agenda of the National State Assembly, unless the Bill contains provisions replacing the Constitution to be repealed and the long title of the Bill expressly states that the Bill is for repeal and replacement of the constitution.”
Constitutional experts believe that, this is the only constitution that provided the repeal and replacement clauses. As there were no repeal or replacement clauses in the earlier versions, Ceylon (Constitution and Independence) Orders-in-Council, 1946 and 1947, the 1972 Republican Constitution did not constitute a section on the repeal and replacement of the earlier Ceylon (Constitution and Independence) Orders in Council, 1946 and 1947. In the Republican Constitution, when the issue of the repeal of the earlier Constitution arises, the statement found in Article 12 (1): “Unless the National State Assembly provides all laws, written and unwritten, in force immediately before the commencement of the Constitution, except such as specified in Schedule ‘A’ shall, mutatis mutandis and except otherwise expressly provided in the Constitution, continue in force. The laws so continuing in force are referred in the Constitution as existing law.'”
The SLFP nominated its leaders, Srimavo Bandaranaike and Maitripala Senanayake, to serve in the Select Committee on the assumption that the objective was to amend the 1972 Constitution and not to replace it with another. When they came to understand the real purpose behind the Parliamentary Select Committee, in their letter written to J R Jayewardene on May 19th, 1978, informed: “We would not be so naive as to participate in an exercise to repeal the Constitution we ourselves have promulgated and to replace it with an entirely new Constitution.” In that letter, they stated they were withdrawing from the Select Committee.
Earlier, the TULF had refused to participate in the constitution-drafting venture of the UNP. Now it was the turn of the SLFP and thus the Select Committee had become a partisan venture, confined alone to the UNP. Prime Minister R Premadasa presented to the National State Assembly on July 25, 1978, the draft of the Constitution’s proposals for the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, which were intended to repeal and replace the 1972 Republican Constitution. The Select Committee’s recommendations were pushed through in the Parliament in three weeks. The government made use of its steam-roller majority in the Parliament and rushed it through.
The Constitution was adopted by the National State Assembly on August 16, 1978, unopposed in the final reading with 137 members voting in favor of the adoption. The Speaker of the National State Assembly Ananda Tissa De Alwis gave his assent to the new Constitution on August 31. The promulgation of the new Constitution was in accordance with Article 172, which stated: “The Provisions of Chapter 1 to Chapter XXIII shall come into force on the day appointed by the President by Proclamation.”
Accordingly, the new Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka was promulgated by J R Jayewardene on September 7, 1978, and he swore allegiance to the Constitution at a ceremony held in the Parliament.
Chapter XXIII very clearly states the repeal of the previous 1972 Republican Constitution. According Article 171: “The Constitution adopted and enacted on the 22nd day of May, 1972, is hereby repealed.” Through the repeal, replacement, and adoption of a new Constitution, J R Jayewardene tried to impose a semblance of legality to the Constitution. Though he managed to repeal and replace it according to the provisions found in the 1972 Constitution, that did not mean that he had brought in a new lease of legality to a document which flowed from another document alleged as illegal.
According to critics, what J R Jayewardene did was merely to perpetuate the illegality. In the “Preamble” of the newly adopted constitution, it stated: “We the freely elected representatives of the people of Sri Lanka, in pursuance of such mandate, humbly acknowledging our obligations to our people and greatly remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain and preserve their rights and privileges so that the Dignity and Freedom of the Individual may be assured, just, Social, Economic and Cultural Order attained, the Unity of the Country restored, and Concord established with other nations, do hereby adopt and enact this Constitution as the Supreme Law of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.” The word “Mandate” was used to enhance the so-called legal revolution, set into motion regarding the Constitution’s authenticity.
The second Republican Constitution, which came into effect on September 7, 1978, involved three major departures from the first Republican Constitution. They were: (1) the perpetuation of the Executive Presidency, (2) the introduction of proportional representation, instead of the “first-past-the-poll” voting system, and (3) the guarantee of foreign investment. The new Constitution was almost an old wine in the new bottle. The form of government was unitary, where a majority ethnic group could hold the other ethnic groups for a ransom of subservience, thus depriving any legitimate share in the administration of the country to the Tamils and the Tamil-speaking ethnic groups.
The Constitution provided an entrenched grip on the part of the majority Sinhalese ethnic formation in the determination of the affairs of the country, without any consideration to the genuine aspirations of the Tamils, who were an equally poised ethnic group and not a minority community as visualized by the Sri Lankan government, but a distinct separate national entity. Thus the Constitution made the Tamils and the Tamil-speaking people in the country a non-entity, and an ethnic group of little importance, an ethnic group at the mercy of and beholden to the generosity of the Sinhalese, even for their basic survival. The Constitution was hastily adopted to legalize the paramount leader Jayewardene, who propelled himself to Executive Presidency on February 4, 1978.
Chapter XXI’s section on transitional powers dealt with the legalizing aspects of the Executive Presidency. Article160 stated: “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in any other provisions of the Constitution, the person holding the office of the President immediately before the commencement of the Constitution shall be the first President under the Constitution and shall be deemed for all purposes to have been elected as the President of the Republic and shall hold office for a period of six years from February 4, 1978.” Many eminent lawyers declared that the new Constitution was a continuation of the illegality, and there had been neither a referendum nor plebiscite, but with the huge majority, Jayewardene pushed it through the Parliament by adopting articles in the Constitution to catapult himself and legalize himself in the Presidency, by the phrase “deemed for all purposes to have been elected as President of the Republic.” Although he was only elected as a Member of Parliament from the two-member constituency of Colombo South, he legalized his position as an elected President of the country.
The central feature of the Constitution is the Executive Presidential form of the government. The President is not a member of the Parliament. He is a member of the Cabinet, as well as the Head of the Cabinet. The Presidency is a mixture of the French and British models. He is a permanent executive for a period of six years, not removable and not answerable to any one, and can only be either removed or impeached under Article 38 (2) of the Constitution. The Constitution empowers him to be the Head of State, Head of Government, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Furthermore, he is not responsible to Parliament. He appoints the Prime Minister and all other Ministers and has the power to dismiss any Ministers without reference to anyone. He has the power to dissolve Parliament after the expiration of a period of one year from the date of a general election to the Parliament. Also, the President has the Power time to time to summon and prorogue the Parliament.
The provision in the Constitution entrenched the position of Buddhism in the country. In the1972 Constitution, Article 6 stated: “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism.” The New Constitution confirmed Buddhism as the State religion and went a step ahead to protect and foster not only Buddhism, but also the Buddha Sasana. Article 9 stated: “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the state to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana [Buddha Sasana includes the doctrine preached and taught by Lord Buddha and by the Buddhist Temples].” With regard to the official language, Article 18 stated: “The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhalese.”
The change from the earlier Constitution is striking. Earlier in the 972 Republican Constitution, Article 7 said: “The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhalese as provided by the Official Language Act No. 33 of 1956.” The new Constitution had constitutionally made Sinhalese the official language and in this way, the Sinhalese language and Buddhism have been further exalted by the 1978 Constitution. Article 19 stated: “The National Languages of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhalese and Tamil.” This is merely a statement of fact, included with a mischievous intent, otherwise redundant. Article 22 stated: “(1) The Official Language shall be the language of Administration throughout Sri Lanka.” But with this provision it added: “Provided that the Tamil Language shall also be used as the language of administration for the maintenance of public records and transaction of all business by public institutions in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.” Thus the Constitution limits the use of the Tamil language merely to the North and Eastern provinces and those Tamils who live outside these provinces shall comply with the official language of Sinhalese.
This further includes a large chunk of people, the Tamils of Indian origin who live in the plantation areas outside the North and Eastern provinces. The Constitution abolished the obsolete distinction of “Citizen by Descent” and “Citizen by Registration”, and provided for one uniform type of citizenry. Article 26 stated: “(1) There shall be one status of citizenship known as ‘the status of a citizen of Sri Lanka’. (2) A citizen of Sri Lanka shall for all purposes be described only as a ‘Citizen of Sri Lanka’, whether such a person became entitled to citizenship by descent or by virtue of registration in accordance with the law relating to citizenship.”
The 1978 Constitution introduced a referendum set up to seek the consent of the voters on major issues like “referendal democracy” and proportional representation instead of the present first-past-the-post system. In the 1972 Constitution, the Judiciary was kept under political control, but in the new Constitution, Article 163 stated: “All judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts established by the Administration of Justice Law No 44 of 1973, holding office on the day immediately before the commencement of the Constitution, cease to hold office.” This amounted to be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
“For all of J R’s anxiety to strengthen the judiciary under the new Constitution, his, and his advisers’, disdain for the partisanship of some of the judges of the Supreme Court, appointed by the UF, drove him and his government to some unusual, if not unorthodox , measures in an effort to rectify the situation. He began with the appointment of a senior civil court lawyer, with a lucrative practice, as Chief Justice. That J R overlooked the claims of members of the existing Supreme Court, and the official bar, in choosing the new Chief Justice, may have bothered some, but, by and large, it did not prove to be as controversial as it may have been. The new Chief Justice, Neville Samarakoon, quickly distanced himself from J R and the government and, more to the point, became openly critical of both on many occasions. This was no pliant Chief Justice, but a man who endeavored, at all times, to strengthen the judiciary at the expense of the executive.” – J.R.Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography Volume Two: From 1956 to His Retirement (1989)- by K.M.deSilva & Howard Wriggins Page 389.
By implementing Article 163, the government excluded seven functioning judges of the Supreme Court and five judges of the High Courts, and the other courts that remained were dismissed when the Constitution came into effect. Four other judges of the Supreme Court were demoted to the lower court, while the Court of Appeal and the Chief Justice was selected from the unofficial bar, evidence of the government’s uncertainty of the judges of the Supreme Court. The government compelled the judges to take an oath to uphold and maintain the new Constitution when the judges were reappointed. Thus the government placed the new constitution beyond any judicial review or reproach, and also secured a politically acceptable judiciary.
Article 81 of the Constitution provided for the expulsion of the Members of Parliament and the imposition of civic disability on them. Article 81 stated: “(1)Where a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry established under the Special Presidential Commission Inquiry Law, No 7 of 1978, and consisting of a member or members, each of whom is a judge of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court or the District Court, recommends that any person should be made subject to civic disability by reason on any act done before or omitted to be done by such person before or after the commencement of the Constitution, Parliament may by resolution passed by not less than two-thirds of the whole number of Members (including those not present) voting in its favor (a) impose civic disability on such person for a period not exceeding seven years, and (b) expel such person from Parliament, if he is a Member of Parliament. Where a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry consist! s of more than one member, a recommendation made by the majority of such members, in case of any difference of opinion, shall be the recommendation of such Commission of Inquiry.”
Mentions of individual liberty, freedom, and provisions to protect fundamental rights are included in the Constitution. The Constitution guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and stated in the Article 10: “Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion including the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his choice. ” Guarantees are given against torture, cruelty, or inhuman treatment through Article 11: “No Person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishments.”
Equality before the law is guaranteed by Article 12 (1) and discrimination on grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion or place of birth, is prohibited by (2) & (3). Article 12 stated: “(1) All persons are equal before law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law.(2) No citizens shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds. (3) No person shall, on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, or any such grounds be subject to any disability, liability restriction or condition with regard to access to shops, public restaurants, hotels, places of public entertainment and places of worship of his own religion.(4) Nothing in this Article shall prevent special provisions being made, by law, subordinate legislation or executive action, for the advancement of women, children, or disabled persons.”
Freedom from arbitrary arrest and the rights of the arrested persons are provided in Article 13(1): “No persons shall be arrested except according to procedures established. Any person arrested shall be informed of the reason for his arrest. (2) Every person held in custody, detained or otherwise deprived of personal liberty shall be brought before the judge of the nearest competent court according to procedures established by law and shall not be further held in custody, detained or deprived of personal liberty except upon and in terms of the order of such judge made in accordance with procedures established by law.(3) Any person charged with an offense shall be entitled to be heard, in person or by an attorney-at-law at a fair trial by a competent court. (4) No person shall be punished with death or imprisonment except by order of a competent court, made in accordance with procedure established by law. The arrest, holding in custody detention or other deprivation o! f personal liberty of a person! , pending investigation or trial shall not constitute punishment.(5) Every person shall be presumed innocent until he is proved guilty.(6) No person shall be held guilty of an offense on account of any act of omission which did not at the time of such act or omission, constitute such an offense, and no penalty shall be imposed for any offense more severe than the penalty in force at such time such offense was committed.(7) The provisions of paragraphs (2) and (4) of this article shall be inapplicable to the arrest, holding in custody, detention or other deprivation of personal liberty of a person, by reason of a removal order or a deportation order made under the provisions of the Immigrants and Emigrants Act or the Indo-Ceylon Agreement [Implementation] Act, No.14 of 1967, or such other laws as may be enacted in substitution therefore, shall not be a contravention of this article.”
Again, Article 14 grants to all citizens the freedom of speech, assembly, association, occupation, and movement. Article 14 states: “Every citizen is entitled to: (a) the freedom of speech and expression including publication (b) the freedom of peaceful assembly (c) the freedom of association (d) the freedom to form and join a trade union (e) the freedom, either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching (f) the freedom by himself or in association with others to enjoy and promote his own culture and to use his own language (g) the freedom to engage by himself or in association with others in any lawful occupation, profession, trade, business or enterprise (h) the freedom of movement and choosing his residence within Sri Lanka, and (i) the freedom to return to Sri Lanka.”
References about individual freedom and liberties enshrined in the constitution are mentioned in articles 10 to 14. On the contrary, articles 15 and 16 are framed in such a way to nullify all those rights and freedoms in the interest of “national economy” and “national security”. Therefore, the mentions of freedom and liberties are perfunctory in nature. They do not have any sense of earnestness and are merely decorative articles in the Constitution. They amount to nothing and contribute no sense or substance.
The obnoxious Article 15 reads as follows: “(1) The exercise and operation of the fundamental rights declared and recognized by Article (5) and 13 (6) shall be subject only to such restrictions as may be prescribed by law in the interests of the national security. For the purpose of this paragraph Olaw’, includes regulations made under the law for the time relating to public security. (2) The exercise and operation of fundamental rights declared and recognized by Article 14 (1) (a) shall be subject to such restrictions as may be prescribed by law in the interest of racial and religious harmony or in relation to Parliamentary privilege, contempt of court, defamation or incitement of an offence.(3) The exercise and operation of the fundamental right declared and recognized by Article 14 (1) (b) shall be subject to such restrictions as may be prescribed by law in the interests of racial and religious harmony or national economy.(4) The exercise and operation! of the fundamental right declared and recognized by Article 14(c) shall be subject to such restrictions as may be prescribed by law in the interests of racial and religious harmony or the national economy.(5) The exercise and operation of the fundamental right declared and recognized by Article 14 (1)(g) shall be subject to such restrictions as may be prescribed by law in the interests of national economy or in relation to(a) the professional, technical, academic, financial and other qualifications necessary for practicing any profession or carrying on any occupation, trade, business, or enterprise, and the licensing and disciplinary control of the person entitled to such fundamental right, and (b) the carrying on by the State, a State agency, or a public corporation of any trade, business, industry, service or enterprise whether to the exclusion, complete or partial, of citizens or otherwise.(6) The exercise and operation of the fundamental right declared and recognized by Article 14 (1) (h) shall be subject to such restrictions as may be prescribed by law in the interests of the national economy.(7) The exercise and operation of the fundamental right declared and recognized by Article 12, 13(1), 13(2) and 14 shall be subject to such restrictions as may be prescribed by law in the interests of national security, public order and protection of public health or morality, or for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedom of other, or of meeting the just requirement of the welfare of a democratic society. For the purpose of this paragraph and not withstanding anything contrary in Article 155, ‘law’ includes regulations made under the law for the time being relating to public security.(8) The exercise and operation of the fundamental right declared and recognized by Article 12(1), 13, and 14 shall, in their application to the members of the Armed Forces, Police Force and other Forces charged with the maintenance of public order, be subject to such restrictions as may be prescribed by law in the interests of the proper discharge of their duties and maintenance of discipline among them”.
Article 16 in effect nullifies all the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution by providing that law and forms of punishment recognized in already existing legislation shall remain valid, even if they are inconsistent with fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Article 16 states: “(1) All existing written law and unwritten law shall be valid and operative notwithstanding any inconsistency with the preceding provisions of this Chapter. (2) The subjection of any person on the order of a competent court to any form of punishment recognized by any existing written law shall not be a contravention of the provisions of this Chapter.”
The Constitution in its totality failed to provide the Tamils their due place as a separate and distinct nation, equal in status with the Sinhalese nation. It did not provide any opportunity to share power equally with the Sinhalese. The Constitution translated the wishes of the majority, in numerical terms, but failed to take into account the aspirations of the Tamils. The framers of the Constitution failed miserably to provide opportunity either in the form of providing fresh impetus for creating national unity, and neither the right environment nor climate for national integration and reconciliation.
For example, Article 81 is included in the Constitution to impose civic disabilities on Srimavo Bandaranaike and Felix Dias Bandaranaike, the political adversaries of J R Jayewardene. In December 1975, during a vote of no confidence directed against Srimavo Bandaranaike, she publicly welcomed a Commission of Inquiry into the allegations leveled against her. In March 1978, the UNP government enacted a Special Presidential Commission Law.
It was reported that Srimavo Bandaranaike had asked for an assurance from the UNP government, whilst welcoming the appointment of the Presidential Commission that the Commissioners should be judicial Officers, preferably Supreme Court judges. The UNP government appointed on March 20, 1978, a three-member Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry, headed by Justice JGT Weeraratne, appointed to inquire into and obtain information with regard to the misuse or abuse of power during the period from May 1970 to July 1977. The Presidential Commission comprising Justice JGT Weeraratne (Chairman), Justice S Sharvananda, and Justice KCE de Alwis, began its deliberations on August 1 1978 at the former Queens Club premises to investigate and report on the misdeeds alleged to have been committed during the last regime. When Srimavo Bandaranaike was notified to appear before the Presidential Commission, she applied to the Court of Appeal for writ prohibition on Special Presidential Commission Inquiry.
The Court upheld that the Parliament had not specifically conferred power on the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate matters relating to the period prior to February 10, 1978. It was a conspicuous and embarrassing flaw. The Government claimed it was a technical mistake. On November 10, 1978, Prime Minister Premadasa introduced two bills, first to Amend the Constitution and the other about the Special Presidential Commission Inquiry (Special Provisions) Bill. Clause 140 of the Constitution, which was in relation to the power given to the Court of Appeal to issue writs, was to be amended. The government’s viewpoint was that there were situations in which the Supreme Court and not the Court of Appeal, a lower court, should have jurisdiction. Into this category fell the Special Presidential Commission, because judges of the Supreme Court presided over the proceedings.
The government argued that it was inappropriate for the Court of Appeal, a lower court, to sit in judgment on members of the Supreme Court. Bandaranaike argued that those two bills were introduced in great haste for the purpose of validating the Commission, which had been declared illegal by the Court of Appeal. She voted against the amendments in the Parliament. On 7 May1980, Srimavo Bandaranaike announced that she would not submit herself for investigation by the Special Presidential Commission. She issued a lengthy statement explaining the reasons behind her decision to boycott the inquiries. Investigation against her continued in the Commission on an ex-parte basis from May 7, 1980. On August 25, 1980, the Commissioners sent in their report to President J R Jayewardene. The Commissioners held Srimavo Bandaranaike on charges of abuse of power. The charges against Felix Dias Bandaranaike had also been substantiated.
Although the Commissioners’ decision was reported to the Cabinet by the President, the subject was taken in for discussion during Cabinet meeting on September 24, 1980. The Cabinet of Ministers unanimously accepted the findings of the Commission. Numerous delegations and individuals met the President, pressured him, and appealed on behalf of Srimavo Bandaranaike. They requested him to adopt some form of a face-saving formula. One such person was Sir John Kotelawala, a former Prime Minister, who went personally and appealed on behalf of Srimavo Bandaranaike. Unfortunately, subsequent to his visit on behalf of Bandaranaike, Sir John Kotelawala passed away on October 2, 1980. The Cabinet decision on September 27 to punish Srimavo Bandaranaike was taken up for discussion in Parliament on October 16, 1980. Ranatunge Premadasa, the Prime Minister, moved for a motion in Parliament to impose Civic Disabilities on Srimavo Bandaranaike and Felix Dias Bandaranaike.
The Leader of the Opposition, A Amirthalingham, opposed the imposition of civic disabilities on Srimavo Bandaranaike and Felix Dias Bandaranaike. He said that the TULF would speak and vote against the motion. Amirthalingham urged the House to remember that it was discharging a judicial function. In a comment that was directed against the UNP, he appealed to the members to put aside all rancor and bitterness at what may have happened in the past. He claimed that the members of the TULF had in fact suffered more at the hands of the former Prime Minister’s government. However, it was nevertheless necessary to act with a sense of fair play.
The motion was finally approved by 139 voting in favor of the adoption of civic disability and 19 voting against it. Those opposing votes were cast by the TULF and the SLFP. Bandaranaike, after the voting, said that the seven-year ban imposed on her was part of a calculated attempt to subvert the country’s two-party system and its democracy.
J R Jayewardene, the President, in an interview with New International, answered questions on the imposition of civic disabilities, which were reproduced in the Sunday Observer on December 6, 1981, as follows:
“New International: In 40-odd years, there must also be something you are ashamed of.
“J R: Nothing. The political decisions I have taken may have been right or wrong, but that doesn’t matter. In my own behavior there is nothing to be ashamed of. I have done nothing mean. I know they say I am a schemer, but you cannot be a leader unless you scheme, not in politics or in war or in any human affair. Even a boxer has to scheme – and I was a boxer when I was young. You pretend to hit the face but you hit the stomach. Oh yes, you have to scheme.
“New International: What about your former opponent Mrs. Bandaranaike? Do you intend to keep her deprived of civic rights?
“J R: That decision was not mine. It followed on the decision of the Presidential Commission, like night follows the day. You don’t blame a judge for executing a man.
“New International: Presumably you could personally restore Mrs. Bandaranaike’s rights [through granting a] Presidential pardon. Do you have any intention of doing so?
“J R: That I won’t tell you, or anybody. Just now, I have no intention of doing so. I don’t know, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, the situation may change. Who knows? That is not Political [sic]. A commission was not set up especially for Mrs. Bandaranaike. The other individuals found guilty by this commission have been deprived of their civic rights. So why is the sacred cow to be protected?” – J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography, Volume Two: From 1956 to His Retirement (1989) by KM deSilva & Howard Wriggins. Page 514.
In the meantime, Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, at a press conference held in New Delhi, expressed her distressed over Srimavo Bandaranaike’s expulsion from Parliament and the deprivation of civic rights imposed on her.
Indira Gandhi too had undergone a similar episode, when she showed defiance to the Shah Commission and was jailed, but she turned the occasion into a high political drama and quickly secured her release, much to the discomfiture of the Janata government headed by Moraji Desai. In 1964, the year of her father’s death, Indira Gandhi was for the first time elected to Parliament, and she was Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the government of Lal Bahadur Shastri, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack, less than two years after assuming office. There were numerous contenders for the position of the Prime Minister. Unable to agree among themselves, they picked Indira Gandhi as a compromise candidate, and each thought that it would be easy to manipulate her.
In the 1971 general elections to Lok Sabah (Lower House of Parliament), Indira Gandhi and her Indian National Congress contested the fifth Indian Parliamentary general elections. By the introduction of the popular slogan “Garbi Hato: Remove Poverty”, the Indian National Congress won 342 seats out of the 518 member parliament. Indira Gandhi showed extraordinary political skill and tenacity, and gradually elbowed the Congress Dons – Kamaraj Nadar, Morarji Desai, and others – out of power. She held the office of the Prime Minister from 1966 to 1977.
She was riding the crest of popularity after India’s triumph in the war of 1971, against Pakistan, the creation of Bangladesh, and the explosion of a nuclear device in 1974, helped to enhance her reputation among middle-class Indians as a tough and shrewd political leader. However, by 1973, Delhi and North India were rocked by angry demonstrations against rocketing inflation, the poor state of the economy, rampant corruption, and poor standards of living. In June 1975, the High Court of Allahabad found her guilty of using illegal practices during the last election campaign, and ordered her to vacate her seat. There were demands for her resignation.
Gandhi’s response was a declaration of a state of emergency on June 26, 1975, under which her political foes, including all opposition party leaders except the Communists, were imprisoned, constitutional rights abrogated, and the press placed under strict censorship. In July 1975, Indira Gandhi announced her 20 point economic program, followed by the nationalization of the private oil companies in January 1976, and in February introduced and successfully steered the passage through Parliament of the Urban Land Ceiling Regulations Acts. In those days, Indra was India. In November 1976, the Lok Sabah passed the 42ndConstitutional amendment. Through the 42nd Amendment Act of 1976, Indira Gandhi managed to add to the preamble of the Indian Constitution the words “Socialists” and “Secular” while the “unity of the nation” was amended to read “unity and integrity of the nation”.
Meanwhile, the younger of her two sons, Sanjay Gandhi, started to run the country as though it were his personal fiefdom, and earned the fierce hatred of many whom his policies had victimized. He ordered the removal of slum dwellings, and in an attempt to curb India’s growing population, initiated a highly resented program of forced sterilization. On January 18, 1977, the opposition leaders and parliamentarians who were imprisoned under Emergency regulations were released.
In early 1977, confident that she had debilitated her opposition, Indira Gandhi called for fresh elections. In February 1977, Indira Gandhi called fresh elections just three months after postponing them for a whole year. The reason was her deep unease with the notion of altering drastically a political system that had been bequeathed by her father, and her longing once again to hear the heady acclaim of the multitudes who had hailed her in 1971 as a savior.
At the sixth parliamentary elections held on March 16-20, 1977, she found herself trounced by a newly formed coalition of several political parties. Her Congress party lost badly at the polls and managed to win 154 seats out of a total of 542 seats. After her election defeat, many declared that she was a spent force and finished; but, three years later, she was to return again as the Prime Minister of India.
The first political party seen as challenging the Congress’ continuous rule was the Swatantra Party organized by C. Rajagopalachariar (Rajaji) of Tamil Nadu. Swatantra was established in 1959 and was supported by some big businessmen. It opposed the socialist policies of Congress. It had members in the Lok Sabha until 1977. Another party, which challenged the Congress party, but later on almost vanished from the political arena, was the Janata Party. The Janata Party was the first political party in India to establish a non-Congress government when it won the 1977 elections.
The Janata Party was established before the 1977 elections. The person responsible for the formation of Janata Party was Jayaprakash Narayan, called in short J P.
J P was a freedom fighter and a social activist. Many in India respected him and saw in him a moral figure. In the early 1970s, the reign of Indira Gandhi began to show signs of corruption and dictatorship and there was a general feeling that liberal democracy was coming to an end. J P openly attacked Indira Gandhi’s policy and asked other leaders to express their views about the dangers. He opposed Indira Gandhi’s autocratic rule. In May 1974, he inaugurated the Citizen for Democracy Movement.
To prevent Indira Gandhi’s victory in the Parliamentary general elections, a number of political parties aligned into one political party. This party was called the Janata Party. The main factions of this party were, Congress, Lok Dal, Jan Sangh, and other parties.
During the 1977 July General election rally in Sri Lanka, Jayewardene gleefully declared that the cow and calf (the symbol of the Indian National Congress) in India had been defeated and that the same would happen in Sri Lanka. Jayewardene referred to Indra Gandhi and her son Sanjay Gandhi, who were defeated in the general elections held March 1977, and hoped something similar would happen in the Sri Lankan elections, which would be held July 1977, when Srimavo Bandaranaike and her son Anura Bandaranaike were to be defeated.
In the 1977 elections, the Congress party was routed for the first time by a motley opposition group of former Congressmen, Socialists, Hindu Nationalists and peasants’ parties under an umbrella called the Janata Party led by Moraji Desai, a former conservative Congressman. The political group was put together by Jayaprakash Narayan, a veteran socialist leader.
Moraji Desai became the first non-Congress premier, when the Janata Party won 295 out of 542 seats while the Indian National Congress of Indira Gandhi managed to get 154 seats. She lost the 1977 elections and was placed in prison. After her release she became leader of the Congress in 1978.
Jayewardene and Moraji Desai developed a close understanding. The relationship between the two leaders were strengthened by the visits of two heads of state. On October 27, 1978, J R Jayewrdene made an official visit to India. While he was in India, he invited Moraji Desai to be the guest of honor during the Independence Day celebrations in Sri Lanka. Moraji Desai participated in the Independence Day Celebrations held on February 4, 1979. On February 6, he addressed the Sri Lankan Parliament. Desai offered to mediate in the Tamil problem. J R did not take the offer. Amirthalingham, the leader of the opposition, indicated his preference for the problem being solved at an All Party Conference within the country, but said that he had no objection to the mediatory role of the Indian Prime Minister if the Sri Lankan government agreed to it. Though J R did not make any positive response, the two heads of state by then had established a good relationship.
On August 21, 1979, Indira Gandhi wrote in a reply to Krishna Vaikunthavasan of the Tamil Coordinating Committee in London, ” The Janata Party Government of India is going out of its way to be friendly with the present Government of Sri Lanka. I doubt if they will wish to take on the issue of the suffering of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.”
She wrote that the attention was at present focused on the election, but assured that she would try to bring in the Sri Lankan Tamil issue in some other way.
Though the Janata party won the 1977 elections and Morarji Desai became the Prime Minister of India, this party, as it was formed, did not survive for a long time. This party, which was actually a group of factions with one desire to defeat Indira Gandhi, did not find anything in common, among its members, after it defeated Gandhi.
As long as J P was alive, the different factions still stayed together. But after his death in 1978, a clear split occurred in the Janata Party, between
Morarji Desai’s supporters and Charan Singh’s supporters. On June 19, 1979, Morarji Desai resigned as Prime Minister and other members tried to replace him. During this period Jagjivan Ram was about to become a Prime Minister. But on July 27, 1978, Charan Singh of the Lok Dal faction was proclaimed the new Prime Minister. He was promised support by Indra Gandhi. The Lok Sabah were due to meet on August 20, 1979, when the new government would seek the vote of confidence from Parliament, but Indra Gandhi withdrew her party support. Thereupon, Charan Singh resigned a few weeks after he became the Prime Minister, and because of the instability in the coalition, the president declared Parliament dissolved and announced a date for new elections.
On January 1980, the Indian Parliamentary general elections took place, in which Indira Gandhi’s Congress won. In the election, Indira’s Congress party won 353 seats. Indra Gandhi and Srimavo Bandaranaike had enjoyed a very close and good personal relationship since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru – SWRD Bandaranaike. When the UNP government was bent on victimizing Srimavo Bandaranaike, Indra Gandhi not only criticized the Sri Lankan government about the imposition of civic disabilities, but went on to allege that Srimavo Bandaranaike’s family was being harassed. by the government. Those comments from Indira Gandhi automatically invited a response from Jayewardene. He regarded her response as an emotional reaction reflecting her own experiences at the hand of the Janata government.
Subsequently, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, in an attempt to repair damage to the official Indo-Lankan relationship, explained that Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister, was merely expressing her personal views and not those of the Indian government.
Earlier on May 10, 1979, the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the States in the United States of America, adopted a resolution memorializing the American President and the US Congress to protest and to utilize the powers of their offices to rectify the gross injustices which had been inhumanely inflicted on the Tamils of Sri Lanka. The resolution was filed by Miss Marie E Howe, the Representative from Somerville.
The text of the Resolution adopted in House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts stated:
“Memorializing the President and the Congress to protest and utilize the Powers of their offices to rectify the gross injustices which have been inhumanely inflicted on the Tamils of Sri Lanka.
Whereas, the Tamils of Eelam, who number 3 million Hindus, Christians and Moslems and occupy 8,000 square miles, live as an oppressed minority in Sri Lanka, where the majority is composed of 10 million Sinhalese, most of whom are Buddhists; and
Whereas, from the ancient times, two nations, the Sinhalese and the Tamils possessed distinct languages, religions, cultures and clearly demarcated geographic territories until the British, who were characteristically oblivious to differences between these two separate nations, imposed one rule for the purpose of colonial administrative unification; and
Whereas, as was to be expected in 1948 when the British left the island and two willing nations were consequently left under a unitary governmental structure, the majority Sinhalese faction subverted democratic principles to become the new masters of the Tamil-speaking people; and
Whereas, 1 million Tamils on the tea and rubber plantations, who prior to independence had enjoyed rights similar to those possessed by other Ceylonese, were disenfranchised and made stateless; and
Whereas, in 1956, the government passed the official language act which made the Sinhalese dialect the only official language throughout the island, thereby causing severe hardships to several thousand Tamil public servants and migration to foreign lands, and effectively excluding otherwise qualified Tamils from the public service; and
Whereas, although the plantation Tamils were the descendants of Indians who were brought to Ceylon more than 100 years ago by the seemingly ubiquitous British planters, and as such were mostly native Sri Lankans who possessed no relationship with the India from which their ancestors hailed, in 1964 the government inhumanely and callously determined to repatriate compulsorily these Tamils, ordering them to depart the land of their birth; and
Whereas, in 1975, foreign-owed estates were nationalized, compelling scores of evicted Tamil workers to become beggars ; and
Whereas, nationalizing schools in 1960-61, the government directed its discriminatory policies against non-Buddhist education as well as the Tamils, for most of the educational institutions in Tamil areas were owned by the Roman Catholic Church and the missionaries of sundry Protestant denominations; and
Whereas, many Tamil medium schools in Sinhalese majority districts were closed and reopened as Sinhalese institutions, thereby forcing Tamils to study in the Sinhalese medium; and
Whereas, in 1971, a system of standardization of grades was introduced by the government to provide preferential treatment for Sinhalese students and to exclude Tamil medium scholars, a prejudicial scheme which was deliberately concocted to deny merit as the criterion for university admissions; and
Whereas, a new constitution, which reiterated that foremost place should be accorded to the Buddhists religion and the Sinhalese language, was unilaterally adopted without any cooperation or consultation with the majority of the Tamil representatives in Parliament; and
Whereas, the Tamil people were people were again not party to the constitution of 1978, which replaced its predecessor of 1972; therefore be it
Resolved, that the Massachusetts House of Representatives hereby urges the President and the Congress of the Untied States to protect and to utilize the considerable influence and power of their offices to rectify the gross injustices which have been inhumanely inflicted on the Tamils of Sri Lanka; and be it further
Resolved, that copies of these resolutions be forwarded to the President of the United States, to the presiding officer of each branch of Congress, to the members thereof from this Commonwealth, to the Secretary of State, to the Director of the World Bank and to the Secretary General of the United Nations.
Following the adoption of the resolution in the House of Representatives, Massachusetts State Governor Edward J. King, declared May 22, 1979 as “Tamil Eelam Day” and M Sivasithamparam, the President of the Tamil United Liberation Front and the MP for Nallur, was invited to participate in the official ceremony held at the Governor’s office. M Sivasithamparam received the copy of the official Tamil Eelam Day declaration from Governor Edward King at the Governor’s office in Boston, Massachusetts. Marie Elizabeth Howe, the state legislature representative and T Sritharan, organizer and secretary of the Eelam Tamil Association in America also participated in the official function.
“The change of government in 1977, the reversal of the UF’s policies, which had been the focal point of the expatriate Tamils’ campaign, and the changes introduced through the new constitution of 1978 made not the slightest difference to the campaign. By now the expatriate Tamil groups were the most vocal advocates of a separate state for the Tamils of Sri Lanka: the state of Eelam. And, more significantly, the campaign spread to the more prosperous Tamil expatriate community in the United States, particularly Boston, one of the main centers of Eelamist propaganda there. The Boston group achieved their most notable success when the Lower House of Massachusetts’ legislature was persuaded to adopt a series of resolutions “memorializing the President (of the USA) and the Congress to utilize the powers of their offices to rectify the gross injustices which had been inhumanly inflicted on the Tamils of Sri Lanka.
“The date of the passage of this resolution was May 9, 1979. The Governor of Massachusetts declared May 22, 1979 ‘Eelam Tamils’ Day’ and handed over a copy of the resolution to M Sivasithamparam, Amirthalingham’s deputy and the President of the TULF in 1979. Sivasithamparam, GG Ponnampalam’s erstwhile deputy, was at that time in the US on a political mission to gather support for the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils.” – J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography, Volume Two: From 1956 to His Retirement (1989), by K M deSilva & Howard Wriggins, Page 434-435. (According to Wallace C. Mills, the Clerk of the House of Representatives, Massachusetts, in communication with this writer, the resolution was adopted on May 10, 1979 and not on May 9, 1979.
Meanwhile, when Jayewardene became the Prime Minister, he took numerous steps to attain economic development. One of them was the establishment of a Free Trade Zone (an export processing zone). It formed part of a massive program of public Investment, which the government launched in the first 100 days of its existence.
Upali Wijewardene, the first cousin of Jayewardene, in actuality the son of one his mother’s younger brothers, who had business interests in Malaysia and Sri Lanka, was the Chairman of the Free Trade Zone. The other major feature was the large Housing and Urban Development program, which came directly under R Premadasa.
Furthermore, earlier, as one of the major economic proposals, the previous governments, UNP in 1965 -70 and SLFP 1970-77 planned the Mahaveli Ganga (Great Sand River) Development Scheme to provide irrigation facilities for 900,000 acres of land and double the hydro-power capacity by supplying an additional 540 megawatts. The plan was designed to be completed in 30 years and the work on the construction of the two dams at Pogolla and Bowetenna was initiated in 1970. Work on these two dams was completed by 1977 and provided water for about 13,000 acres in the Kala Oya region.
As the UNP government was not satisfied with the rate of progress on the Mahaveli development scheme, it adopted the Accelerated Mahaveli Scheme and launched it in 1978. The five projects were designed to provide irrigation facilities for 350,000 acres of land and an additional 450 megawatts of electricity. Construction work on four major projects was started in between 1979 and 1982 under the new Ministry of Mahaveli Development which was given charge to Gamini Disanayake.
Half the estimated cost of these projects had been provided by outright grants and long term low interest loans granted by the United Kingdom, Sweden, Canada, Federal Republic of Germany. Four other major dams, those at Maduru Oya, Kotamale, Randenigala and Victoria were completed by 1987.
Meanwhile, Rohana Wijeweera and his fellow JVP prisoners were released by the UNP Government of J R Jayewardene, which assumed office on July 1977, along with several millionaire businessmen who had been detained on a judgment from the other Criminal Justice Commission which had convicted them of foreign exchange frauds.
” J R had no illusions about Wijeweera and the JVP. In an interview with the authors on November 9, 1979, he said that their release was entirely my decision.’ I did not think of the attitude they would take after release,’ he added, but I don’t trust them much. I didn’t think that they would be grateful [either]. There is no gratitude in Marxists. I accepted that. So that wasn’t a consideration. It did not matter to me which way they went, provided they did not take up arms.’ At that interview, he assured that there had been no discussions or understandings with the JVP about the release of those jailed prior to their being freed. J R and the UNP were the immediate beneficiaries of the release of Wijeweera and his JVP colleagues who had been jailed under the Criminal Justice Commission Law.” – J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography, Volume Two: From 1956 to His Retirement (1989), by K M deSilva & Howard Wriggins, Page 492.
Right from day one of the UNP government, Cyril Mathew, the Minister of Industry, started the anti-Tamil campaign. According to the Gospel of Cyril Mathew, “The only good Tamil is the dead Tamil.” In his first speech in Parliament, he accused the TULF of destroying Buddhist places of worship in the Northern province, where he said, there were over 250 historical Buddhist sites.
Furthermore, when the new government took office, in its policy announcement on August 4, 1977, it declared that the earlier United Front Government’s university admission policy would be reversed. The announcement of the abolition of standardization was one thing, but to evolve a new university admission policy was another thing politically and academically.
Main issues confronted the government just after the 1977 ethnic riot, as explained by Professor C R de Silva in The Sri Lanka Journal of Social Science:
“When the marks were processed it became clear that if district quotas and standardization were not applied, the Tamils will considerably outnumber the Sinhalese in the much sought-after faculties of Medicine and Engineering. Some inkling of this situation reached the members of the Sinhalese nationalist groups. Assertions were made by them that Tamil examiners had inflated marks. A one-day strike by all Sinhalese secondary school children in protest against government policy was planned in [February 1978] and indeed, this was only averted by the closure of all government schools for the day by taking into custody several alleged organizers.”
Jayewardene and his government came up conclusively to abandon the standardization procedure adopted by the United Front Government. By abandoning this procedure, there was noticeable improvement in the position of Tamils entering Medical and Engineering faculties. At the same time the government increased the number of places in the universities. Special privileges were given to students recognized as being from underprivileged districts.
But by mid-1978, the whole question about university admissions became once more a controversial issue, as the Sinhalese supporters of standardization were unhappy that Sri Lankan Tamils with a population of 11 percent were able to get 35-40 percent of medical and engineering entrants to universities. They came up with allegations that the examiners in the Tamil medium had been partial in their grading of examination papers at the entrance examination to the universities and in particular the examination held at the end of 1977.
In persisting with those criticisms, the supporters of standardization were bent on doing things that went against even the government and embarrassing it. They soon had a champion to their cause within the Cabinet itself. It was again the TULF basher – Cyril Mathew, the Minister of Industry and Scientific Affairs. When he took up the issue in the parliament on December 11, 1978, alleging the corruption of the Tamil examiners, M.Sivasithamparam denied the allegation in Parliament and said, ” We can take anything but the charge of dishonesty. Let us once and for all nail the canard that Tamil examiners were dishonest and that Tamil students have been favored with high marks.” He added that students who toiled for 18 to 19 hours a day felt hurt and humiliated.
Following the arguments on the floor of the House, Mathew held a press conference, where he produced two biology answer scripts, alleged to be that of the two Tamil students who sat for the GCE Advanced Level (University entrance examination) and alleged that two marks had been given in excess for a question on the life-cycle of a mosquito over the allotted marks. He said, “Marks had been awarded to Tamil students in a manner that was unworthy of civilized people. Tamil examiners had been dishonest and as a result a large number of Sinhalese students had been deprived of the opportunity of getting into university. It is a conspiracy practiced since 1968.”
Cyril Mathew was the Minister of Industry and Scientific Affairs. The university entrance examination was conducted by the Department of Examination, which came under the Ministry of Education. Mathew failed to answer from where he obtained those two answer scripts. Neither the Minister of Education nor the Department of Examination failed to confirm that either gave those answer scripts to Mathew. By being a Minister, he abused his position to allege that the Tamil examiners were dishonest. As it was a politically motivated, generalized accusation, there was no way for any Tamil examiners to file a defamation case against Cyril Mathew.
The above heinous charge and the district quota system introduced subsequently hurt the Tamil teachers and the students. The goodwill the government earned by abolishing media-wise standardization was lost. The district quota system allotted 30 percent of the university seats on merits, 55 percent on the basis of population of each district, and the balance of 15 percent to backward districts.
Cyril Mathew charged in the floor of the House during a debate that Mangayarkarasi, the wife of Amirthalingham, had said during the 1977 election campaign that they would swim in the blood of the Sinhalese people. Amirthalingham denied it categorically and said his party was founded on the principle of non-violence – Ahimsa. According to Cyril Mathew: “Sri Lanka.is known as Sinhale. It is a Buddhist country. Nobody can deny this fact. No rulers can forget this fact. If they do, I do not think such a ruler will last for more than twenty-four hours. Sri Lanka has been promised to the Sinhalese as a Buddhist country by the Kandyan Treaty” ( 28 October 1980 – Hansard).
In May 1978, the government introduced the bill “Proscribing of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and other similar organizations” to muzzle the Tamil Liberation organizations, which had began to challenge Sinhalese hegemony. The Minister of Justice explained, “the process of law and investigation has come to naught because people are fearing to come forward and give evidence and investigations have met a dead end. The government has to find ways and means of meeting a situation like this.” On May 18 and 19, 1978, the bill was debated in Parliament was passed with 131 voting in favor and 25 against on May 19, 1978.
Jayewardene, the Executive President, through this legislation, outlawed all Tamil militant groups and other organizations opposed to the repressive rule of the government. Consequent to the adoption of this repressive law, the police headquarters published a list of 38 Tamil youths with photographs and other details as persons wanted for several acts of violence in the Northern Province. Those sketchy and biased details with photographs were given publicity in the leading English and Sinhalese daily newspapers.
However, this act did not have much success, which was clear from the fact that the activities of the Tamil militants groups continued unabated. The government responded to the growing anti-Tamil feeling among the Sinhalese, the demand for the ban on the Eelam and the proscription of the TULF. Jayewardene informed the Parliamentary Group on July 3, 1979 that soon legislation to combat and wipe out terrorism would be introduced in Parliament And in July 1979, the government replaced it with another piece of legislation.
Accordingly, the government at the initial stages adopted the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provision) Act, on July 20, 1979. This gave the police extensive powers of arrest, detention, admissibility of confession, and trial without jury. To justify the need for such extensive powers, the government provided a list of 90 murders committed by the Tamil militant groups from 1970 to July 1979.
Having consolidated his power base in Colombo, Jayewardene proceeded to intensify his campaign to crush the growing Tamil militancy in the Tamil areas, especially in the Jaffna district. On July 14, 1979, Jayewardene ordered his nephew, Brigadier Weeratunge, the Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Army, who was appointed the overall Commander of the Security Forces in Jaffna, to eradicate terrorism within six month’s time.
This special directive came from the President defining the objective of Brigadier Weeratunge’s mission: “It will be your duty to eliminate in accordance with the laws of the land the menace of terrorism in all its forms from the island, and more especially from the Jaffna district. I will place at your disposal all resources of the state. I earnestly request all law abiding citizens to give their cooperation to you. This task has to be performed by you and completed before December 31, 1979.”
The above instruction coming from the President of the Country meant that:
1. The President considered the abolition of the Tamil militancy as a duty purely to be done only by the military.
2. By providing a deadline for the onslaught on the Tamil militants; it was a declaration of war by the state on the Tamils.
President Jayewardene chose to dispatch armed forces to deal with a group of less than 200 Tamil youths, who challenged the government’s discriminatory policies, instead of winning them over politically. This was the biggest mistake incurred by him, to be followed by his successors, when he pioneered with the Sinhalese the chauvinist idea of military adventurism instead of a negotiated political settlement.
If Jayewardene had shown some degree of rationality, some form of magnanimous gesture in solving the grievances of the Tamils through a political process acceptable to all sides, the country would have taken rapid steps towards the consolidation of national integration. Instead, he introduced and adhered to state-sponsored terrorism and practiced military adventurism in the country, to be sincerely and dutifully followed to date by the successive Presidents of the country.
On the same day, a state of emergency was declared in Jaffna and the public security ordinance gave the armed forces the right to shoot and kill any suspected persons with powers to dispose dead bodies without an inquest. From 11 July 1979, Emergency Regulations No:14 had allowed police to dispose of dead bodies without inquest or other formalities, which amounted as an open license to kill.
The Sri Lankan army behaved as an occupying force and devastated the entire area through its extra-judicial activities. It was the beginning of the heart-breaking experience of nightmare and terror unleashed by the armed forces to instill fear in the minds of the ordinary civilians.
As tension mounted in the country, the government realized the need to cool down tempers on the both sides of the ethnic divide. Subsequently, Prime Minister R Premadasa and the Leader of the Opposition A Amirthalingham issued a joint statement: “We wish to appeal to our people to maintain calm and poise and to refrain from being influenced by rumors and activities of mischief mongers. We call upon Members of Parliament and all political and religious and social service organizations committed to the maintenance of law and order and goodwill among the people to use their influence to counter rumors in the various villages and electorates as well as to protect the property and lives of the innocent victims.
“We pledge that we will take on ourselves the responsibility of maintaining communal harmony and providing protection to all citizens who might be the target of communal activities as well as anti-social elements who seek to exploit any situation to their selfish advantage.
“We would like to emphasize that problems affecting our country can be solved in a peaceful and amicable manner and we appeal to all sections of the people not to be influenced in any way to resort to violence under cover of political agitation.
“We as civilized people have the capacity to solve our common problems peacefully and to show the rest of the world that issues can be resolved in keeping with traditions of our great religions.”
Despite the joint Appeal, the special operation by the armed forces began on July 14, 1979. Brigadier Weeratunge’s security team, on the same night, took away six Tamil youths from their homes. Two of the boys taken by them were Inpam and Selvaratnam, who were accused of the murder of the former Mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Durraiappah, and who were earlier tried and released by the courts. They were subsequently found killed and their mutilated dead bodies were found near the Pannai causeway in Jaffna. Another group of four Tamil youths, S Parameswaran, Rajakili, S Rajeswaran, and R Balendra disappeared into thin air.
Indrarasa, another Tamil youth, who was also arrested on the same day along with the earlier six youths, was admitted to the Jaffna Hospital on the following day and died of multiple fractures and injuries he sustained due to the ruthless assault and torture by the armed group.
Notwithstanding the emergency regulations, inquest were held on the first three victims. On 8 January 1980, the magistrate in Jaffna delivered his verdict in the case of Indrarasa as follows: “The death was due to cardio-respiratory failure consequent to renal tubular necrosis consequent to shock and hemorrhage resulting from multiple injuries. There is evidence of assault by Police. I return the verdict of homicide.”
Jaffna City, devastated by the atrocities of the armed forces, resembled a city under siege and the people began to lose hope and confidence in the government run by the Sinhalese leaders. The brutal and ruthless approach of the Sri Lankan armed forces made the Tamils to realize their precarious position in the country.
At the beginning, Tamils were a peace-loving, law-abiding, and conservative-minded people, and did not approve the slowly emerging militant approach of the Tamil youths. They did not fail to reproach the youths and publicly called them misguided and admonished them to give up violence. But, when the government itself spearheaded terrorism against them, stark reality dawned on them to accept militancy, as the only right answer to government’s enforced terror, subsequently they began to acquiesce to youths militancy. When the government tried to institutionalize the state-sponsored terror and violence against innocent civilians, it began to dawn on them about the importance of the offensive nationalistic approach, and they agreed that it had to be repulsed by the very language familiar to the government.
Tamil youths who were in the vanguard of repelling state-sponsored terror, started organizing themselves into real militant organizations and gradually began to ambush police and military conveys of vehicles. The law subsequently was found inadequate to enforce state terrorism on the Tamils and was repealed to incorporate stringent provisions of this law in another draconian piece of legislation to subdue the militancy of the Tamils that gained momentum as an outgrowth of the state-sponsored terrorism.
By October 1979, the Janata Vimukthi Perumuna (JVP) for the first and the last time, along with four other leftist parties, came forward to agitate against measures taken by the government to combat the rising tide of militancy in the Northern province. In a joint communique issued on September 24, 1979 and signed by Uptissa Gamananayake on behalf of JVP, Bernard Soysa for LSSP, DW Subasinghe for CPSL, Vasudeva Nanayakara for NSSP, and Bala Tampoe for the Revolutionary Marxist Party, they called for the withdrawal of the Essential Public Service Bill, the Repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the revocation of emergency and military control of the Jaffna district. Those were the main demands at a campaign launched on October 2, 1979 with a mass rally in Colombo.
In 1982, the Prevention of Terrorism Act became a permanent feature, as one of the most stringent draconian pieces of discriminatory law ever to be legalized in any civilized country and exclusively used against the Tamils to subdue them. The law made the entire Tamil Community suspects in the eyes of the security forces in particular and the government in general. This act empowered government and its security forces to arrest any one without arrest warrants and keep them detained without reference to any court of law for an unlimited period. All offences under this retroactive law may be tried without preliminary inquiry before the judge of the High Court, sitting without a jury. Statements oral or written made to a police officer are admissible into evidence, whereas such evidence is not admissible as substantive evidence under the Evidence Ordinance, and any document found in possession or in the custody of a person arrested can be used against the accused person in trial. Under this Act thousands of Tamil youths have been detained but only very few faced trail.
The armed personnel empowered by law and patronized by the Executive President of the country, unleashed terror and mayhem in the Jaffna peninsula. Villages were rounded up by armed security personnel and cordoned off and forces ruthlessly carried on search and destroy operations. Several hundred Tamil youths were arrested and tortured to death. Dead bodies of Tamil youths in disfigured forms were seen scattered on the Jaffna city roads, with fatal gun-shot injuries in their already-dead bodies, to terrorize the people into submission.
“On May 1980, Sri Lanka became for the first time, a signatory to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights and the Sri Lankan government made a declaration recognizing the competence of the Human Rights Committee under Article 421, of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, it has intentionally avoided ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Covenant, as such ratification would enable individuals to invoke the procedure set forth in the Protocol in the event of violations of human rights. Sri Lanka is also a signatory to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crime of Genocide and in 1982 acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.” – Militarization in Sri Lanka, by Mayan Vije, page 11.
To give further effect to this law, Jayewardene, who held the portfolio as the Minister of Defense, formed the Ministry of National Security and named the Oxford educated lawyer and politician, Lalith Athulathmudali, as its first minister. He was greatly responsible for transforming the Sri Lankan armed forces into a battle-weary unit and Sinhalese-chauvinist, government-sponsored terror mongers.
Any person arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) may have his or her name notified to the Minister of National Security and the Minister is empowered to order that the suspect be detained for an unspecified period. Those detained under this law undergo severe police brutalities. Armed forces and paramilitary personnel have the right to extract statements from detainees under duress, adopting all sorts of torturous, brutal and barbaric methods. Detainees are kept incommunicado and the whereabouts of detainees are not revealed either to their direct members of the family or to any lawyers, and visits by the members of the family and lawyers are not admissible.
This draconian law which is in existence even today, is responsible for several thousands of Tamils being arrested and incarcerated. The defense forces took the best advantage of this law to search the houses of the Tamils, without any warrants, arrest Tamil youths – both boys and girls, young and old – with the power to shoot and kill them, and confine them to specially constructed torture cells, incommunicado. This ignominious piece of legislation paved the way for extra-judicial killings and enforced or involuntary disappearances of several thousand Tamils from the face of this earth.
The human rights and individual liberties clauses enshrined in the 1978 Constitutions became meaningless clauses under this stringent and draconian piece of law. In July 1983, the Tamil news-paper Sutantiran and the English weekly Saturday Review, published from Jaffna, were closed down under this act.
“With Jaffna brutalized by the armed forces, behaving like an army of occupation, there were two publications coming out of Jaffna, the Saturday Review, an English Weekly, and Suthanthiran, a Tamil bi-weekly, both of which published information about atrocities in the Tami areas. The Saturday Review in English was the only one through which the problems facing the Tamil people were transmitted to the Sinhalese people and the outside world. It had the largest circulation of any Sri Lankan paper outside the country. Those who have missed the literary gems – the editorials written by Siva [Subramaniam Sivanayagam, the Editor] – will find these reproduced in this book. President Jayewardene had no answer to Siva. His answer was to ban the Saturday Review and attempt to arrest Siva. Miraculously, he escaped – a story in itself.” – Brian Senivaratne, in his foreword to The Pen and the Gun by S Sivanayagam.
Later, after February 1984, Saturday Review was allowed to publish for some time under heavy harassment of press censorship.
The army camps in Palali, Pooneryn, Elephant-pass, Vavuniya, Batticaloa, and Trincomalee keep thousands of innocent Tamil youths – boys and girls who are subjected to inhuman torture and sufferings. Girls and boys are confined in cells, incommunicado and kept naked, without even providing them with any prison dresses and other basic facilities.
Up to 1987, opposite the army camp at Vavuniya located on the Kandy-Jaffna trunk road, an eternal fire was kept burning and several hundreds of innocent Tamil victims were simply thrown alive into the fire pit and immolated without any trace as another form of instilling terror by Jayewardene’s chauvinistic armed forces.
Even today, thousands of Tamils are languishing in the specially-constructed torture cells called jails only by name, in Sri Lanka under this draconian law. The government has constructed several underground jail facilities to keep the Tamils without any basic facilities and the Tamil prisoners are kept in the underground cells continuously for several months, in total darkness, without even providing any opportunity to see the sunlight for months. Moreover, Tamils have been languishing in these jails for years, without any prospect of release in the future and without even any semblance of judicial inquiries to prove their innocence.
Since 1971, the country continues to be under stringent emergency regulations and North and Eastern provinces are still under these draconian regulations, which are acts of rampant repression. The Government amended the Constitution for the tenth time to authorize Parliament to confirm the invocation of the State of Emergency by a simple majority.
The Emergency Regulations 55 B-G introduced on June 14, 1983, imposed such curbs on normal inquest procedures to render them ineffective as an authoritative, independent means of establishing the cause of death and the collection of the evidence necessary to determine the persons and factors responsible for such deaths.
Emergency regulations permit the disposal of bodies without even an inquest. Under the emergency regulations, the magistrate is not empowered to investigate the case of any detainees, but he “shall” remand detainees to a prison on the request of the security forces, where the detainees shall be held for an indefinite period.
Emergency regulations continuously renewed each month by Parliament always include new additions for new aspects of stringent measures, such as the Surveillance Zone and the Territorial Zone, which were established April, 1984. They have put 200,000 fishermen and dependents out of business and have led to their destitution. Movement within the Tamil districts is also restricted. The Territorial Zone was extended along the Eastern Province and extended the restriction of movements in the North and Eastern Provinces.
The government also authorized aerial bombings and artillery fire on civilian targets in the North and Eastern provinces, and banned the movements of essential and scarce food commodities into the Northern province, which has been in effect up to date. It has also banned of the movement of medical equipment, pharmaceutical products, and life-saving drugs into the Northern Province, and banned the movements of all types of baby and infant food and other first-aid requirements into the Northern province to date.
Finally, the government banning of the movement of kerosene oil and other essential energy-generating fuel, into the Northern province, as well as the movement of textiles and building materials needed for the people in the Northern province.
Armed forces arrested a Catholic priest who brought in four pen-torch battery cells at the army check point at Vavuaniya, which resulted in three months’ rigorous imprisonment. The Tamils who manage to leave Jaffna to Colombo are subjected to all sorts of checks and harassment. The Tamils from Jaffna have to always carry with them a special identity card issued by the army office. Failure to carry the document will results in abuse, torture and an indefinite period of incarceration.
Tamils from the Northern Province must register their place abode in Colombo with the nearest police station. At every turn they are checked and harassed.
Posters are put out in the Sinhalese language not to let houses or any place of abode to the Tamils in the capital city. Very often, the Tamils living in Colombo are arrested during midnight and dumped in jails without informing the cause of their arrests by security forces and police for exhortation. They are released when a large amount of money is paid as bribes.
Emergency Regulations empowers each law officer, paramilitary and military personnel to check, harass, arrest, terrorize and to do everything beyond what is mentioned in the emergency regulations. The government’s failure to impose any checks on the security personnel have led to the rampant abuse of power and excesses.
The dead bodies of the Tamils were seen floating in many places along the Kelani River. These bodies bore fatal gun shot injuries and burns to disfigure identities. Another common sight was the surfacing of charred bodies with mutilated faces to cover any possible identifications, along the roadsides in the city of Colombo.
It is alleged that security forces are corrupt and greedy and have amassed wealth and properties. Even top military officers are prone to all types of scandals and recently stories of commissions and other types of kick-backs and briberies are surfacing even in the government-controlled newspapers.
While switching from the military pressure, the government also tried its hand on political remedies. The government on August 10, 1979 appointed a Commission to examine and report decentralization or devolution of administration and economic development activities through District Ministers and District Development Councils. On that day the government appointed a 10-member Presidential Commission to report on the decentralization of administration through the device of the District Development Council. The Commission completed its work in February 1980.
The District Development Council Bill was tabled in the House on August 8, 1980, by the R Premadasa, the Prime Minister. The TULF decided to support the Bill. Amirthalingham called it a historic piece of legislation, as it involved decentralization of the administration. It led to the direct involvement of the people in the development process. Parliament approved legislation for the establishment of the District Development Councils on August 21, 1980.
Subsequently, at the General Council meeting of the TULF held at Vavuniya, Amirthalingham was the main target of attack in the 10-hour long session. He made an hour-long impassioned plea, defending the District Development Council proposal. He said that the District Council system was a general scheme for the decentralization of the administration of the country. Whether the TULF accepted it or not, it would be implemented by the government. If the TULF accepted it and helped in its implementation, it would help the economic development of the Tamil districts. If the TULF decided to oppose the District Development Council, the neglect of the Tamil-speaking districts by the government would undoubtedly continue.
Hundreds of Tamil youths staged satyagraha (a sit-in campaign) outside the Vavuniya Town Hall, the venue of the General Council Meeting of the TULF. They carried placards, which read, “Reject the Bill which detracts us from our goal.” Radical university students of the University of Jaffna burnt the effigy of Amirthalingham on campus grounds.
Elections for the District Development councils for the 24 districts in the island were held on June 4, 1981.