|A. Amirthalingam’s Historic Speech in the Sri Lankan Parliament|
[at the Debate on the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist
Republic of Sri Lanka Bill, on August 3, 1978]
Introductory Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
the history of Sri Lanka’s dysfunctional democracy, the parliament
constituted following the 1977 General Election was notable for quite a
number of peculiarities. First, due to the vagaries of the voting by the
Sinhalese electorates, the post of Leader of the Opposition fell on the
laps of Appapillai Amirthalingam, the Leader of the Tamil United
Liberation Front. By then, he was a
relative veteran of the Ceylon parliament, having entered for the
first time in 1956, at the age of 29, and served the Vaddukoddai
electorate for 14 years. But he was out of parliament between 1970 and
1977. Secondly, the giants of parliamentary debate of the preceding 30
years were markedly absent; some who had gained stature within the
parliament for their intelligent speeches, especially those belonging to
the traditional Leftist Parties (Dr.Colvin R.de Silva, Dr.N.M.Perera,
Bernard Soysa) and mavericks like W.Dahanayake were defeated in the 1977
election; some like G.G.Ponnambalam and S.J.V.Chelvanayakam had died.
Thirdly, that parliament saw the large number of neophytes; some
literate, but many lacking decorum in listening to an opposing
viewpoint. Among the neophytes of the 1977 parliament, one could count
Lalith Athlathmudali, Ranil Wickremasinghe (both of UNP), Anura
Bandaranaike (of SLFP) and R.Sampanthar (of TULF).
Amirthalingam – the then TULF leader – carried a heavy burden on his
shoulders as a ranking legislator and debater. He was forced to play a
dual role; as the nominal Leader of the Opposition in the Sri Lankan
parliament and contribute intellectually to the debates, and at the same
time he was also the nominal political leader of Eelam Tamil interests.
A segment of Tamil population then felt that, by taking on this dual
role Amirthalingam paid a heavy price politically and ultimately he came
to suffer. However, when it came to parliamentary debates, between 1977
and 1983, Amirthalingam was at his best. He had matured and mellowed. He
was not the young fire-brand as when he first came to prominence to
Ceylon politics in 1956.
the depleted Opposition bench of 1977 – devoid of ranking names, with
the solitary exception of SLFP veteran Maithiripala Senanayake –
Amirthalingam had no equal, excluding his TULF colleague
M.Sivasithamparam. What distinguished both Amirthalingam and
Sivasithamparam among the Eelam Tamil political leaders from the rest of
their parliamentary peers in the 20th century was their
bilingual oratory. They were equally adept in Tamil and English. Whereas
their Tamil predecessors (like G.G.Ponnambalam, S.J.V.Chelvanayakam and
C.Suntheralingam were erudite in English) and few of their peers (like
S.Thondaman, C.Rajadurai and Pundit K.P.Ratnam) were attractive in
Tamil, only Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam could deliver polished and
intelligent speeches in both Tamil and English.
historic speech delivered by Amirthalingam on August 3rd 1978
at the Debate on the Constitution of the
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka Bill was
an excellent example of his erudition in Tamil and English. It was a
lengthy speech as well. According to the records, he
began his speech in Tamil at 10:20am. His opening words in Tamil
were as follows [in my English translation]: “Honorable Speaker; on
this historic occasion, I wish to make my observations on the submitted
Constitution Bill, both as the Leader of the TULF parliamentary group
and as the Leader of the Opposition. First I’ll speak in Tamil, and
then continue my speech in English. I do this since what we present here
has to be understood properly in the future. In addition, foreigners and
others also should comprehend our stance. Thus, I continue the latter
half of my speech in English.” When the lunch break came,
Amirthalingam was still on his feet. When the parliamentary
sitting resumed at 2:00pm, Amirthalingam continued his speech in Tamil,
and later switched on to English. When the sessions was adjourned for
half an hour break for tea, he was still on his feet. At 4.30pm,
Amirthalingam continued his marathon speech in English for probably
another an hour. In my estimate, he would have spoken on that day for at
least four hours.
celebrate the 25th anniversary of this historic speech by
Amirthalingam, I provide in full the English component, as has been
recorded in the Sri Lanka’s parliamentary proceedings, Hansard
Aug.3, 1978 [columns 970-1022]. Only the typographical errors have been
corrected, and for reasons of space, honorifics of those who interrupted
him (making wisecracks and other comments) have been omitted. I have
included the rejoinders and wisecracks of other legislators who listened
to his speech, since Amirthalingam’s repartee and rebuttal also reveal
his blessed talent. When the current focus of attention in the talks
between the Ranil Wickremasinghe’s Cabinet and the Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) centers on issues related to power-sharing and the
need for amending the existing Sri Lankan Constitution,
Amirthalingam’s 1978 speech has special relevance. Thus, I felt that
it needs electronic medium exposure (in full) from its buried state in
the Sri Lanka’s Hansard record.
speech, I consider, is Amirthalingam’s equivalent of ‘I have the
Dream’ speech of Martin Luther King Jr., with three marked
differences. First, unlike Dr.King’s speech, this is remarkably
lengthy. Secondly, unlike Dr.King’s speech, this speech of
Amrithalingam was not televised. Third, while Dr.King’s audience in
August 1963 numbered in tens of thousands, Amirthalingam’s audience
within the Sri Lankan parliament in August 1978 would have been at most
100 to 130. However, in tone and the text, the messages of Dr.King and
Amirthalingam were the same – a plea for equality for the people, whom
both represented as main spokesmen respectively.
1978 speech of Amirthalingam highlights the notable events of Eelam
Tamil history since 1833 (when island Ceylon was ‘united’ by the
colonial British for administrative convenience) for a period of 145
years until 1978. It incorporates (a) the 1972 resignation statement of
Amirthalingam’s mentor S.J.V.Chelvanayakam, (b) TULF’s Vaddukoddai
Resolution of 1976, (c) his own personal reminiscence as the first
accused at the 1976 Trial-at-Bar case – as a consequence of
distributing the 1976 Vaddukoddai Resolution to the public, and (d) an
expose on the devilish aspects of the 1978 Constitution.
TULF Leader Amirthalingam’s Historic 1978 Speech
Only the English component of the bilingual speech is reproduced below.
For completeness, interruptions and wisecracks of other legislators who
listened to Amirthalingam’s speech are also included. Those who were
identified in the Hansard record were as follows: Lalith Athulathmudali,
Ronnie de Mel, R.Premadasa, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Shelton Jayasinghe,
K.Thurairatnam, S.Kathiravelupillai, Merril Kariyawasam, K.W.Devanayagam,
Harindra Corea and Wimala Kannangara. Among these, Athulathmudali,
Ronnie de Mel, Jayasinghe, Devanayagam and Wimala Kannangara were
ministers then, and Premadasa was the prime minister. Amirthalingam’s
rebuttals and repartee to interruptions were also notable for his
A.Amirthalingam: “Mr.Speaker, I am very thankful to you for your
indulgence in permitting me to speak at some length in Tamil in order to
place before this House and before the country the position of the TULF
and the Tamil nation in Ceylon with regard to the far-reaching changes
that we are witnessing today. It is not every day that a Parliament of a
country indulges in the exercise of Constitution-making. It is a rare
phenomenon and it can be once in a decade or even less frequently that
Constitutions are changed. But, unfortunately, in our country we seem to
have reached a stage when every Government wants to change the
Constitution and have a Constitution of its own. Anyhow, I appeal to
hon. Members to bear in mind the seriousness of the occasion. After all,
the occasion when the Constitution of a country is being changed is not
an occasion for levity; it is not an occasion for cheap jibes; it is not
an occasion for interruptions. It is an occasion for all hon. Members of
this House without including in and trying to make cheap political
capital of the issues involved, without trying to have any
recrimination, to analyse the historical events, to analyse the
background, to analyse the forces that have surfaced necessitating a
change in the Constitution.
the making of a Constitution is not an isolated event but a step in the
process by which people assert their soverignty and identity, articulate
their basic values and aspirations and define the instrument of
Government through which the soverignty of the people can be exercised.
I am sure the hon. Members of this House will approach this question in
that spirit. If they do approach the question bearing these facts in
mind they will realize what a serious task they are engaged in.
Sir, when the Second Amendment to the present Constitution, providing
for the creation of the post of an Executive President was moved, I had
occasion to place before this House the stand of the TULF and the Tamil
nation to that amendment. I said on that occasion, that we who had
rejected the existing Constitution, we who had refused to accept it as
binding on us, could not be a party to the amendment of the Constitution
and we therefore refused to participate in the Debate on the Second
Reading of the Amendment. Therefore, Mr.Speaker, without repeating the
things that I referred to in the course of my speech, I want to refer,
in passing, to the history of Constitution making in this country.
1970 when the United Front Government came into power they convened the
Constituent Assembly and invited all political parties to participate in
its deliberating in drafting a new Constitution for this country. On
that occasion we also joined the Constituent Assembly and participated
in the deliberations of the Constitutent Assembly. We expected that
amendments to the basic resolutions would be considered, that there
would be a policy of give and take and suitable adjustments could be
made, and the rights that the Tamil-speaking people in this country have
been agitating for up to that time could be safeguarded by the
provisions in that Constitution. With that end in view we not only
participated in the Constitutent Assembly, but my late leader,
Mr.S.J.V.Chelvanayakam, and some of us even met the then Hon.Prime
Minister and the Hon.Minister of Constitutional Affairs and placed our
point of view before them.
late Mr.Chelvanayakam said in the Constitutent Assembly:
‘We were always willing to compromise for the sake of an agreed
settlement of this vexed question. We indicated to the Hon.Prime
Minister and the Hon.Minister of Constitutional Affairs the minimum
rights we wanted embodied in the Constitution but although our
discussions with the Hon.Prime Minister and the Hon.Minister of
Constitutional Affairs were very cordial and our views apparently
received the serious consideration of the Hon.Prime Minister, yet it has
not been proposed to make any alteration in the Basic Resolutions as
they stand. In the circumstances no useful purpose will be served in our
continuing in the deliberations of this Assembly.’
he and the other Members of our Party from then onwards kept out of the
the Constitution was passed we urged for amendments to the Constitution.
When I say ‘we’, I include the Hon.Minister of Justice who was then
a member of the Tamil United Front. While also being a member of the
United National Party he was a member of the Tamil United Front in our
agitation for our constitutional rights. We put forward certain demands
for the amendment of the Constitution and all our requests fell on deaf
ears. We did not have even an acknowledgment to the letter that my late
Leader wrote at that stage.
Sir, as I said, under those circumstances Mr.Chelvanayakam decided to
vindicate his stand by getting a mandate from his electorate for the
rejection of the Constitution. He actually resigned on the 2nd
of October 1972, but he made his statement on the 3rd October
and handed in his letter because the House sat only on the 3rd
October 1972. You will recall, Mr.Speaker, that in the course of my
Tamil speech I said I will deal with this statement in the course of my
speech in English. This is the text of the statement which he made on
the Floor of this House at the time he resigned his seat in October
‘I am resigning my seat in this Honourable House. I wish to state
my reasons for doing so.
The History of the Tamil people in this country since 1948 has been
one of deterioration. In the then Parliament of ninety five elected
Members there were eight Tamil Members representing the estate Tamil
population who are today not there. They have been replaced by Sinhalese
Members now in double that number. The eight Tamil Members were there by
the grant of the vote of the bulk of the workers on the estates. This
was thought to be a just decision on the question of Tamils of Indian
Origin by the United Kingdom Government.
As soon as Ceylon became independent the first thing the Sinhalese
Government did was to deprive the Tamil worker in the estates of the
vote. This was carefully manoeuvred through a citizenship law that
deprived them of citizenship and by granting the vote to citizens only.
The entire structure on which the Soulbury Constitution was based
collapsed. It must be said to the credit of the LSSP and the CP that
they opposed this move though they have now succumbed to a purely
next important thing that took place was the passing of the Sinhala Only
Act by the Bandaranaike Government in 1956. Even this was made possible
by the depriving of the vote of the Tamil worker on the estates.
Although the Tamil worker has been deprived of the vote, the seats that
were allotted to them have not been removed but have been given to the
Sinhalese voter. This has meant that from 1952 onwards the legislature
has been a Sinhalese weighted body and all legislation thereafter has
been communal Sinhalese. Had the vote remained as it was in 1947 the
landslide in the election of 1970 would not have taken place.
The next important event has been the creation of a new Constitution
by a legislature that was so Sinhalese weighted. The Constitution has
given everything to the Sinhalese and has given nothing to the Tamils.
The Sinhala Only Act has been so strengthened that it requires a
two-thirds majority to alter it. Sinhala has been made the language of
the courts. All talk about a man being tried in his own language applies
to the Sinhala man and not to the Tamil man. There are many other
features in the Constitution that I need not mention here. Even the
slight protection that was given to the minorities by Section 29 of the
old Constitution has been removed.
Faced with this situation the Tamil people of different parties
formed the Tamil United Front and appealed to the Prime Minister to
remedy some of these evils. I, on behalf of the Tamil United Front,
wrote to the Prime Minister a letter raising six points on which the
Constitution has to be amended, and we gave her time till the 30th
September to do that. But nothing has been done. In this situation the
responsibility falls on my head, as the Leader of the Tamil United
Front, to appeal to the Tamil people for them to say whether they are
with me or not.
It is claimed by the Government that a sizeable section of the Tamil
people accept the Constitution. We deny this and want to give an
opportunity to the Government to prove that claim. The best way in which
that can be done is for me as the Leader of the Tamil United Front to
resign my Seat in this Honourable House and re-contest it on my policy
and ask the Government to oppose me on its policy. Of course, the
decision will be that of the Tamil people. My policy will be that in
view of the events that have taken place the Tamil people of Ceylon
should have the right to determine their future whether they are to be a
subject race in Ceylon or they are to be a free people. I shall ask the
people to vote for me on the second of these alternatives.
Let the Government contest me on that position. If I lose I give up
my policy. If the Government loses, let it not say that the Tamil people
support its policy and its Constitution. Let not the Government deprive
the people of their decision on the issues raised by postponing the
(OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd October 1972; vol.2, cc.883-4)
was the statement that Mr.Chelvanayakam made on the Floor of the House
on 3rd October 1972 when he resigned his Seat in order to
give an opportunity for the then Government to test its claim that the
Tamil people accepted the Constitution. Of course, the election was
postponed for two years or more, and ultimately when the election was
held in 1975 the voters of the Kankesanthurai Electorate, whom I have
the privilege of representing today, gave an unequivocal verdict. And
what was the verdict? By over 75 percent of the votes they returned
Mr.Chelvanayakam, thereby not only indicating that they rejected the
Constitution but also stressing what Mr.Chelvanayakam immediately after
his victory in the election said, namely, ‘I consider the verdict at
the election as a mandate that the Tamil Eelam nation should exercise
the soverignty already vested in the Tamil people and become free.’ In
fact, the verdict is almost 100 percent today because the only candidate
whom the then Government could persuade to contest Mr.Chelvanayakam on
that issue, Mr.V.Ponnambalam of the Communist Party, has not given it up
and has joined ‘hands with the TULF in the struggle for the liberation
of the Tamil people.
Has he left the Communist Party?
A.Amirthalingam: Yes, he has left the Communist Party. Acting on
this mandate that the Tamil people gave, the Members of the TULF who
were then in Parliament gave notice of a Private members’ Motion. By a
strange coincidence that appeared on the Order Paper of this House on
the 4th of February, 1976.
is the motion notice of which was given by Mr.S.J.V.Chelvanayakam,
Mr.V.Dharmalingam, Mr.A.Thangathurai, Mr.X.M.Sellathambu,
Mr.B.Neminathan, Mr.S.Kathiravelupillai, Mr.V.N.Navaratnam,
Mr.K.Jeyakkody, Mr.K.Thurairatnam, Mr.K.P.Ratnam and Mr.V.Anandasangare:
‘Whereas the Sinhalese and the Tamils in Sri Lanka constitute two
separate nations with their inherent right to self-determine,
and whereas the Sinhalese nation and the Tamil nation who were
shackled together by foreign rule remain to this day to shackled,
and whereas all governments of independent Sri Lanka have always
encouraged and fostered the aggressive nationalism of the Sinhalese
nation culminating in the unilateral imposition of the present
Constitution which has condemned the Tamils to the position of a subject
nation, this Assembly resolves to recognize the verdict of the K.K.S.
by-election as a mandate for the restoration and reconstitution of the
free, soverign, secular, socialist State of Tamil Eelam.’
was a motion, notice of which was given in February 1976. But the motion
was never reached. There was another Private Members’ Motion before it
and the Government kept it going, kept it going in such a way that
thereafter – after notice of this motion was given, till that
Parliament was dissolved – no other Private Members’ Motion was
taken up during the rest of the term of that Parliament.
A.Amirthalingam: After that we met in our annual convention at
Vaddukoddai, in my own village of Pannakam and we adopted the historical
resolution which was the basis of our Election Manifesto also.
that resolution we set out the various reasons why were were forced to
come to the conclusion that we could not live together with our brothers
any longer. I think it is appropriate at this state to place that
resolution before this House on this historic occaion. It reads:
‘Whereas throughout the centuries from the dawn of history the
Sinhalese and Tamil nations have divided between them the possession of
Ceylon, the Sinhalese inhabiting the interior of the country in its
southern and western parts from the river Walawe to that of Chilaw and
the Tamils possessing the northern and eastern districts,
And whereas the Tamil kingdom was overthrown in war and conquered
by the Portuguese in 1619 and from them by the Dutch and the British in
turn independent of the Sinhalese Kingdoms,
And whereas the British Colonialists who ruled the territories of
the Sinhalese and Tamil kingdoms separately joined under compulsion the
territories of the Tamil kingdom to the territories of the Sinhalese
kingdoms for purposes of administrative convenience on the
recommendation of the Colebrooke Commission in 1833,
And whereas Tamil leaders were in the forefront of the Freedom
Movement to rid Ceylon of colonial bondage which ultimately led to the grant
of independence to Ceylon in 1948,
And Whereas the foregoing facts of history were completely
overlooked and power was transferred to the Sinhalese nation over the
entire country on the basis of a numerical majority, thereby reducing
the Tamil nation to the position of a subject people;
And whereas successive Sinhalese Governments since Independence
have always encouraged and fostered the aggressive nationalism of the
Sinhalese people and have used their political power to the detriment of
the Tamils by –
depriving one half of the Tamil people of their citizenship and
franchise rights, thereby reducing Tamil representation in Parliament;
making serious inroads into the territories of the former Tamil
kingdom by a system of planned and state-aided Sinhalese colonization
and large-scale regularization of recently encouraged Sinhalese
encroachments calculated to make the Tamils a minority in their own
making Sinhala the only official language throughout Ceylon
thereby placing the stamp of inferiority on the Tamils and the Tamil
giving the foremost place to Buddhism under the Republican
Constitution thereby reducing Hindus, Christians and Muslims to
second-class status in this country;
denying to the Tamils equality of opportunity in the spheres of
employment, education, land alienation and economic life in general, and
starving Tamil areas of large-scale industries and development schemes,
thereby seriously endangering their very existencein Ceylon;
systematically cutting them off from the main-stream of Tamil
culture in South India while denying them opportunities of developing
their language and culture in Ceylon, thereby working inexorably towards
the cultural genocide of the Tamils;
permitting and unleashing communal violence and intimidation
against Tamil-speaking people as happened in Amparai and Colombo in
1956, all over the country in 1958, Army reign of terror in the Northern
and Eastern Provinces in 1961, police violence at the International
Tamil Research Conference in 1974 resulting in the death of nine persons
in Jaffna, police and communal violence against Tamil-speaking Muslims
at Puttalam and various other parts of Ceylon in 1976 – all these
calculated to instil terror in the minds of the Tamil-speaking people,
thereby breaking their spirit and the will to resist the injustices
heaped on them;
by terrorising, torturing and imprisoning Tamil youths without
trial for long periods on the flimsiest of grounds;
capping it all, by imposing on the Tamil Nation a constitution
drafted under conditions of emergency without opportunities for free
discussion by a constituent assembly elected on the basis of the
Soulbury Constitution distorted by the Citizenship laws resulting in
weightage in representation to the Sinhalese majority thereby depriving
the Tamils of even the remnants of safeguards they had under the earlier
And whereas all attempts by the various Tamil political parties
to win their rights by cooperating with the governments, by
parliamentary and extraparliamentary agigations, by entering into pacts
and understanding, with successive Prime Ministers in order to achieve
the bare minimum of political rights consistent with the self-respect of
the Tamil people have proved to be futile;
And whereas the efforts of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress to
ensure non-domination of the minorities by the majority by the adoption
of a scheme of balanced representaion in a Unitary Constitution have
failed and even the meagre safeguards provided in article 29 of the
Soulbury Constitution against discriminatory legislation have been
removed by the Republican Constitution;
And whereas the proposals submitted to the Constituent Assembly
by the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi for maintaining the unity of the
country while preserving the integrity of the Tamil people by the
establishment of an autonomous Tamil State within the framework of a
Federal Republic of Ceylon were summarily and totally rejected without
even the courtesy of a consideration of its merits, and
Whereas the amendments to the Basic Resolutions intended to
ensure the minimum safeguards of the Tamil people, moved on the basis of
the 9 point demands formulated at the Conference of all Tamil political
parties on 7th February 1971 and by individual parties and
Tamil Members of Parliament, including those now with the Government
party, were rejected by the Government and the Constituent Assembly, and
even amendments to the draft proposals relating to language, religion
and fundamental rights, including those calculated to ensure that at
least the provisions of the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act be
included in the Constitution, were defeated, resulting in the boycotting
of the Constituent Assembly by a large majority of Tamil MPs and
Whereas the Tamil United Liberation Front, after rejecting the
Republican Constitution adopted on 22nd May 1972, put a
6-point demand to the Prime Minister and the Government on 25th
June 1972 and gave three months’ time within which the Government was
called upon to take meaningful steps to amend the Constitution so as to
meet the aspirations of the Tamil nation on the basis of the 6-point
demands and informed the Government that if it failed to do so the
Tamil United Liberation Front would launch a non-violent direct action
against the Government in order to win freedom and the rights of the
Tamil nation on the basis of the rights of self-determination, and
Whereas the last attempt by the Tamil United Liberation Front to
win constitutional recognition of the rights of the Tamil nation without
jeopardizing the unity of the country, was callously ignored by the
Prime Minister and the Government, and
Whereas the opportunity provided by the TULF leader to vindicate
the Government’s contention that their Constitution had the backing of
the Tamil people, by resigning from his membership of the National State
Assembly and creating a by-election, was deliberately put off for over
two years in utter disregard of the democratic right of the Tamil voters
of Kankesanthurai, and
Whereas in the by-election held on the 6th February
1975 the voters of Kankesanthurai by a preponderant majority not only
rejected the Republican Constitution imposed on them by the Sinhalese
Government but also gave a mandate to Mr.S.J.V.Chelvanayakam, Q.C. and
through him to the Tamil United Liberation Front for the restoration and
reconstitution of the free, soverign, secular, socialist state of Tamil
The first National Convention of the Tamil United Liberation
Front Meeting at Pannakam on the 14th day of May 1976 hereby
declares that the Tamils of Ceylon, by virtue of their great language,
their religions, their separate culture and heritage, their history of
independent existence as a separate state over a distinct territory for
several centuries until they were conquered by the armed might of the
European invaders and, above all, by their will to exist as a separate
entity ruling themselves in their own territory, are a nation distinct
and apart from the Sinhalese and this Convention announces to the world
that the Republican Constitution of 1972 has made the Tamils a slave
nation ruled by the new colonial masters, the Sinhalese, who are using
the power they have wrongly
usurped to deprive the Tamil nation of its territory, language,
citizenship, economic life, opportunities of employment and education,
thereby depriving all the attributes of nationhood of the Tamil people.
And therefore, while taking note of the reservations’
that respect the CWC had a mental reservation and we recognized it –
‘in relation to its commitment to the setting up of a separate
state of Tamil Eelam expressed by the Ceylon Workers Congress as a trade
union of the plantation workers, the majority of whom live and work
outside the northern and eastern areas,
This Convention resolves that the restoration and reconstitution
of the free, soverign, secular socialist state of Tamil Eelam based on
the right of self-determination inherent to every nation, has become
inevitable in order to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil nation
in this country.
This Convention further declares –
that the State of TAMIL EELAM shall consist of the people of the
Northern and Eastern Provinces and shall also ensure full and equal
rights of citizenship of the State of TAMIL EELAM to all Tamil-speaking
people living in any part of Ceylon and the TAMILS of EELAM origin
living in any part of the world who may opt for citizenship of TAMIL
that the constitution of TAMIL EELAM shall be based on the
principle of democratic decentralization so as to ensure the
non-domination of any religions or territorial community of TAMIL EELAM
by any other section;
that in the State of Tamil Eelam, caste shall be abolished and
the observance of the pernicious practice of untouchability or
inequality of any type based on birth shall be totally eradicated and
its observance in any form punished by law;
that TAMIL EELAM shall be a secular state giving equal protection
and assistance to all religions to which the people of the state may
that Tamil shall be the language of the State but the rights of
Sinhalese-speaking minorities in Tamil Eelam to education and
transaction of business in their language shall be protected on a
reciprocal basis with the Tamil-speaking minorities in the
That Tamil Eelam shall be a Socialist State wherein the
exploitation of man by man shall be forbidden, the dignity
of labour shall be recognized, the means of production and distribution
shall be subject to public ownership and control while permitting
private enterprise in these branches within limits prescribed by law,
economic development shall be on the basis of socialist planning and
there shall be a ceiling on the total wealth that any individual or
family may acquire.
This Convention directs the Action Committee of the TAMIL UNITED
LIBERATION FRONT to formulate a plan of action and launch without undue
delay the struggle for winning the soverignity and freedom of the Tamil
And this Convention calls upon the Tamil Nation in general and
the Tamil youth in particular to come forward to throw themselves fully
in the sacred fight for freedom and to flinch not till the goal of a
soverign socialist State of TAMIL EELAM is reached.’
Mr.Speaker, I read this resolution fully because I want the whole country to know the views, the feelings and the aspirations of the Tamil Nation in this country.
Now we know!
A.Amirthalingam: When this resolution was passed Emergency
regulations were promulgated making it an offence for anybody even to
publish this resolution. The newspapers were ordered not to publish the
resolution, and they thought that there would be a blackout of this
resolution thereby. We defied the law. We defied the Emergency
regulations which prescribed a penalty of twenty years’ imprisonment,
a fine, and forfeiture of property. We defied that ban, printed copies
of this resolution in thousands, and distributed them all over the
country. On the 22nd of May 1976 some of our Members were
taken into custody. I myself, the hon.Member for Point Pedro, the
hon.Member for Kayts and the hon.Member for Chavakachcheri were taken
into custody, removed to Paget Road and locked up in solitary cells for
These are all past sins.
A.Amirthalingam: I am dealing with the history. I am not dealing with the present. After we were released we were brought to trial before a trial-at-bar, that is, before a bench of three Judges of a High Court of Colombo on those charges.
that trial-at-bar I as the first accused had the privilege of stating
what my plea was. I told the court on that occasion that I was not
prepared to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges because I did not
accept that the court was properly constituted because the court was
constituted under an invalid constitution and under invalid emergency
regulations. That was the position we took up and as I said 67 eminent
lawyers led by Mr.S.J.V.Chelvanayakam Q.C., Mr.G.G.Ponnambalam Q.C.,
Mr.M.Thiruchelvam Q.C., Mr.V.S.A.Pullenayagam Q.C., Mr.P.Navaratnarajah
Q.C., Mr.R.R.Crossette Thambiah Q.C., and Mr.S.J.Kadirgamar appeared in
that historic trial-at-bar in the course of which we placed before the
court, before the whole country and before the whole world our case.
case was twofold. We challenged the validity of the emergency
regulations. We said that the emergency regulations had not been
properly promulgated and Mr.G.G.Ponnambalam argued that point. Then we
challenged the validity of the constitution and Mr.Thiruchelvam and
Mr.Pullenayagam argued that point. The arguments went on for several
days. Ultimately the trial-at-bar court said that the question of the
validity of the constitution was a political question and that the court
could not be called upon to adjudicate upon it. While they so held on
that question they also held that the emergency had not been properly
declared and, therefore the emergency regulations were invalid and that
the court having been constituted as a trial-at-bar under the emergency
regulations had been improperly called together and therefore they had
no power to try me and they discharged me. The same thing happened to
the other three accused in the other three cases.
Government took up the matter in appeal in the Supreme Court and
curiously enough in the course of the arguments or just before that the
Attorney-General indicated to the Supreme Court that the Government
intended to withdraw the charges against the accused and that they were
not proceeding with the charges and therefore the Supreme Court could
give its verdict on the legal question uninhibited by any consequences
that may flow from it to us. Anyhow the net result was that we were
exonerated and that was the end of the case.
was on the basis of this resolution that we went to the elections. We
sought a mandate from our people to win back their freedom. It was on
that mandate that we were returned to Parliament.
Sir, in regard to the Second Amendment to the Constitution, in view of
our mandate, in view of the position we had taken, we indicated that we
were not going to participate in the debate on the amendment to the
this Government came forward with the proposal for setting up a Select
Committee for amending the Constitution we said we would at the
appropriate time make our position with regard to the Select Committee
clear. Then we had to take a decision whether we were going to
participate in the deliberations of the Select Committee or not.
I told you, in 1970 we accepted the invitation to participate in the
Constituent Assembly, explored the possibility of a settlement, of
effecting a compromise, whereby certain minimum rights could be ensured
to the Tamil-speaking people, and when we failed we severed connections
with that Constituent Assembly.
far as this Select Committee was concerned, we decided not to go into
the Select Committee at all because we felt that the Government itself
had not set about the question of solving the problem of the
Tamil-speaking people in the way in which they said they were going to
solve it. In their election manifesto as well as in the Policy Statement
they said that they would find a solution on the basis of a consensus
and that they would summon an all-party conference as stated earlier and
implement its decisions. In fact, even in the paragraph dealing with the
Constitution in their manifesto they said that the decisions of an
all-party conference which would be summoned be to consider the problem
of the non-Sinhala-speaking people would be included in the
Constitution. So, if the Government had either summoned an all-party
conference or started negotiations with us with a view to evolving a
formula as a basis for the solution of this problem, we could have gone
into the Select Committee in order to work out a scheme of government
– a Constitution embodying that as one of its aspects. But,
unfortunately, the Government set about it in the wrong way. For reasons
of their own, may be because of certain attitudes which were shown by
other political parties, or, maybe for other reasons, they decided not
to try and work out a solution to this problem before they started on
constitution-making. That was the reason why we decided not to go into
the Select Committee.
fact, this is the resolution that we adopted on that point.
“Whereas the Members of the TULF were elected to the N.S.A. on a
mandate to work for the liberation of the Tamil Nation by the
establishment of Tamil Eelam on the basis of their right of
And whereas the violence unleashed on the Tamil people after the
general elections have reinforced their faith that only the objective of
Tamil Eelam can ensure their safety and well being;
And whereas the Government and the State machinery have been acting
in a step-motherly manner in the rehabilitation of the Tamil refugees
from recent violence;
And whereas the Government does not appear to have taken into
consideration the verdict of the Tamil people in the elections and the
impact of the recent communal violence on the political situation and
has not shown any enthusiasm or realisation of the urgency to find a
solution to the problem of the Tamil Nation;
And whereas the Government has not made any effort at least to
evolve a solution to the problems of the Tamil speaking people before
amending the Constitution on the basis of all-party consensus as
promised in the election manifesto of the UNP;
And whereas a Parliamentary Select Committee appointed under these
circumstances does not seem to have either the capacity or the climate
to find a solution to the problems between the two nations in this
country the Action Committee of the TULF feels that no useful purpose
will be served by participating in the Select Committee of Parliament to
revise the Constitution and direct the Parliamentary Group not to
participate in the Select Committee.’
was on the basis of this direction that we had from our Party’s
committee was appointed and memoranda were invited and various people
submitted various points of view, but curiously enough though the Report
of the Select Committee was published along with the Draft Constitution,
the Bill that is before the House has certain chapters added to it which
are not in the Select Committee’s draft. I do not know what fun it is
in appointing a Select Committee to draft a Constitution which has not
been approved, portions to which have not even been placed before the
Select Committee? They might as well not have had this Select Committee
at all but drafted and presented a Constitution of their own as they
could have very well done that with the majority that they have.
Sir, with regard to that part of the Constitution or the Constitution
Bill which did not go before the Select Committee, I have already dealt
with when I spoke in Tamil I do not want to repeat it. But I will only
say this much.
provision in the Constitution which is most disturbing to the people is
that which is contained in Clause 157. It is primarily directed to a
two-type situation. Firstly, it seeks to deprive the other political
parties like the SLFP for instance, from seeking a mandate from the
people to constitute themselves into a Constituent Assembly for the
purpose of enacting a new constitution. This provision therefore seeks
to entrench for all time the process of constitutional change that is
provided for in Chapter XII, namely, through a Bill to amend the
Constitution in a particular way. Mr.Speaker, I feel outraged that a
Government committed to democratic freedoms and the assertion of
fundamental rights should deny the people the sovereign right of giving
a mandate to a future Government to enact a different Constitution.
we of the TULF are not directly concerned with this aspect of the matter
but I feel it my duty as Leader of the Opposition to draw the attention
of this House and the country to this aspect of the matter. This
provision is not merely of academic interest but has far-reaching
consequences because, with proportional representaiton that is being
introduced into this country, no future government may have a two-thirds
majority to amend the Constitution in terms of Chapter XII. This is an
attempt to petrify the present position and the present Constitution for
all time and deprive the people of a chace –
You do not welcome the entrenchment of fundamental rights?
A.Amirthalingam: We want fundamental rights to be entrenched but
not the entrenching of the whole Constitution. One can entrench
fundamental rights but the Constitution must be flexible within limits.
The whole Constitution cannot be entrenched for then it will become
fossilized at some stage and the fossil will have to be cracked with a
hammer otherwise it will cease to grow. That is what will happen when
you entrench the whole Constitution – you will petrify the whole
position and make a fossil of the Constitution.
What do you suggest? We want your views and we want you to participate
in the Debate.
What do you want us to do?
A. Amirthalingam: I will come to that later. Sir, it is
inevitable that this Constitution would remain unalterable except
through a process of revolutionary change. [Interruption]. In my
view provisions of this nature are futile. It cannot prevent the process
of legal revolution by which continuity is severed from the past and a
new Constitution enacted through a process external to what is envisaged
in Chapter XII. Moreover provisions of this nature may result more
dangerously in accelerating the process of violent revolutionary seizure
of political power. It is undemocratic in conception and strikes at the
very root of a democratic process of constitutional making.
What do you suggest?
A.Amirthalingam: Drop Article 157. Why do you want it? That is all
what I am saying. Article 157 is not necessary. It was not before the
Select Committee. The Select Committee never thought it necessary. It is
an after-thought by somebody. We are also immediately concerned with
Article 157. I am also interested. I make no secret of that.
second concern of this provision is to suppress and subjugate the
Tamil-speaking people in their aspiration for self-determination and for
a new assertion of their identity.
Now you are not referring to Article 157?
A. Amirthalingam: It is the same. In fact, under this
law some genius like the former Minister of Justice, because he was the
man who put us on trial earlier.
He will do that only at midnight!
A.Amirthalingam: Or somebody like that might think that we are
offending Article 157 and straightaway all of us can be put behind bars.
We are aware of that and let it not be thought that we are complaining
So are you moving any amendment?
A.Amirthalingam: We are here not to amend. We are here to place
our views and depart.
If you want to move an amendment you must remain here.
A.Amirthalingam: I am sure the Prime Minister has on previous
occasions – he is a real democrat – listened to Opposition points of
view and he himself has moved amendments. He can move the amendment to
drop this Draconian piece of law.
You say it was not in the Select Committee proposals?
A.Amirthalingam: It was not there.
It is not in the Report either!
A.Amirthalingam: In fact, this Article 157 would prohibit any
peaceful agitation towards the establishment of the right of
self-determination of our people. To this extent, this is a provision
which is repugnant to every norm of political participation and would
have very serious consequences to Tamil people. But I would say
straightaway that when we met at our annual convention over the weekend
in Jaffna, we, with the full realization of the implications of this
Article, decided to go ahead with our political programme, and we are
ready to face and take the consequences even if we are put behind bars
for 10 years and all our properties confiscated. After all, some of us
who are here have during the last 22 years of our political life been to
jail four times, I have been in prison four times. I have been assaulted
and humiliated several times – and another terms of prison life will
not deter us from doing what is correct and just and what is necessary
for the freedom and self-respect of our people.
that, Article 157 is fundamentally an attack on the political struggle
of the Tamil people, and it is decisive in shaping our approach to this
Constitution. [Interruption] I have a lot to say and I think
Members will give me the indulgence of not interrupting me today.
are certain other features of this Constitution which intimately concern
the Tamil-sepaking people which I will have to deal with, though it was
not my intention to go into details with regard to this Constitution.
Certain of the provisions here may be help up to the world as being
calculated to ensure the rights of the minorities in this country. One
of those is the scheme of representation that is introduced.
scheme of representation that is introduced envisages the allocation of
four Seats to each province – on what basis I do not know – and the
allocation of Seats to each electoral district according to the number
of voters in that electoral district. I want to take the minds of
Members back to the Soulbury Constitution. At the time of the Soulbury
Commission representations were made on behalf of the All Ceylon Tamil
Congress by Mr.G.G.Ponnambalam.
All Ceylon Muslim League, the Malay Association, the Ceylon Workers’
Congress and various other organizations made representation with regard
to representation of minorities and the need for weightage to be given
to minorities. I am not going back to those good old days. I am only
tracing the history to give hon. Members the background for
representation on an area basis.
Soulbury Commissioners did not want to recommend communal
representation. If hon.Members read the Soulbury Commission Report they
will find that the Soulbury Commissioners took the view that a certain
amount of weightage could be given to the minorities, particularly to
the Tamils and the Muslims, by giving representation to them on an area
That is right. You must identify the voters.
A.Amirthalingam: That is, they decided to give one Member for
every 1000 square miles of area because they found that the Tamils and
Muslims occupied certain sparsely populated areas and twenty five seats
were added to the total representation. Eight went to the Northern and
Eastern Provinces, and seventeen to the other seven provinces. That was
meant to give weightage to the Tamils and Muslims who occupied those two
provinces. That was the purpose behind it. Anyone reading the Soulbury
Commission Report and the reasons for their recommendation will realize
that. Under the present Constitution also that position is being
retained – 25 seats on an area basis, 4 for the Northern Province, 4
for the Eastern Province and 17 for the other seven provinces.
without any rhyme or reason, under the new draft Bill, each province is
given four seats on an area basis. So, the Northern and Eastern
Provinces get their eight seats, and the other seven provinces get 28
seats. That means an addition of 11 seats beyond their population for
the other seven provinces. In other words, this Constitution gives
weightage to the population of the other provinces over what is provided
for in the present Constitution and in the former Soulbury Constitution.
There is one extra coming between Mannar and Vavuniyawa.
That is part of the four.
A.Amirthalingam: I think the Hon.Minister of Posts &
Telecommunications is referring to a unit. Mannar, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya
and Jaffna are all in the Northern Province.
Shall we go into the details in the Committee Stage?
A.Amirthalingam: I am only starting the principle behind it. I am
not on the Committee Stage now.
You touch on the principles now. We will go into the details at the
A.Amirthalingam: I am mentioning this because this is going to
give weightage to the majority at the expense of the minorities. You are
adding 11 seats to the areas from which the majority community
representatives come. That is eleven more than what they have today
under the present Constitution. You cannot deny that. I do not know
whether the Hon.Minister of Justice gave his mind to this aspect of it.
That is a very serious situation. We are not worried about whether we
are here whether it is 17 or 20 does not matter so long as we are a
subject race. We are a subject race. We do not want anyone to hold this
as a boon to the Tamil people, to say that they are doing them a favour
by introducing the Constitution. This is going to reduce the
representation of the Tamil-speaking people because the bulk of their
representation is from the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
fact, from the proceedings of the Select Committee, I find that the
hon.Members of the Muslim community had been aware of some of the
dangers in this because I see that the Hon.Deputy Speaker has argued at
length in the Select Committee against the dangers of this proportional
representation scheme for the minorities particularly in the seven
provinces outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces. When there is a
threshold vote of 12½ percent, any group which fails to get one-eighth
of the total votes polled, does not have any representation. So that, a
Muslim or a Tamil, unless he is nominated by one of the bigger parties
and finds a place substantially high up on the list of candidates, may
have no chance of being returned, whereas under the system of
multi-member seats, pockets of minorities have a chance of returning
Members. If minorities contest as minorities they are moved down by the
cut-off point which is the highest in the world. In West Germany they
have the threshold vote of five percent; here we are having it at 12½
Major parties also nominate minority Members.
A.Amirthalingam: If they do not or even if they do but the
nominees do not get a place sufficiently high up on the list of
candidates, there may be no Member elected from the minority communities
from those areas. In the Northern and Eastern Provinces that will not
The cut-off point was suggested by one of your Members.
A.Amirthalingam: That was for local authorities.
Both are the same.
A.Amirthalingam: There is a lot of difference.
For purposes of deposits, one-eighth.
A.Amirthalingam: Losing a deposit in one seat is not the same as a
whole group losing representation in an entire district.
You gave the percentage.
A.Amirthalingam: It is not my intention to enter into a
controversy but to point out in passing the dangers involved in this
scheme of representation particularly to the Tamils and Muslims. I make
this point because an attempt is being made to make out that this scheme
is a boon that is being conferred on us. The Hon.Minister of Justice
will make that claim when he follows me, and it is in anticipation of
that that I want to put this point forward to him so that he may give up
his mind to it. He is aperson who is genuinely interested in the future
of the Tamil people. Let him give his mind to this matter, and I am sure
he will do that. That is why I am drawing his attention to this matter.
there is the Chapter on Fundamental Rights.
You have got what you wanted written into the Constitution.
A.Amirthalingam: There are certain fundamental rights which have
been adequately safeguarded in this draft Constitution.
Which you did not have earlier?
A.Amirthalingam: Section 15(8) almost repeats the provisions of
section 18(2) of the 1972 Constitution. It says:
‘The exercise and operation of all the fundamental rights declared
and recognized by Articles 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 the protection of public health or
morality, or for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for
the rights and freedoms of others, or of meeting the just requirements
of the general welfare of a democratic society.’
vague phrase, ‘of meeting the just requirements of the general welfare
of a democratic society’, can cover anything. This is the phrase that
one finds in this new Constitution. In the 1972 Constitution they have a
different phrase which is equally vague. Section 18(2) of the 1972
‘The exercise and operation of the fundamental rights and freedoms
provided in this Chapter shall be subject to such restrictions as the
law prescribes in the interests of national unity and integrity,
national security, national economy, public safety, public order, the
protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights
and freedoms of others or giving effect to the Principles of State
Policy set out in Section 16.’
18(2) of the 1972 Constitution applies to the entire list of fundamental
rights, but section 15(8) of the new Constitution applies to certain,
but very important, fundamental rights, and this vague phrase, ‘of
meeting the just requirements of the general welfare of a democratic
society’, is one of the limiting factors. The 1972 Constitution speaks
of ‘the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the
rights and freedoms of others or giving effect to the Principles of
State Policy set out in section 16’. They had a whole Chapter there on
the Principles of State Policy. Here you have an equally vague phrase
where you say ‘of meeting the just requirements of the general welfare
of a democratic society’.
How would you amend it?
A.Amirthalingam: They should be more specific. This sort of vague
phraseology should not find a place here.
Then make your suggestion.
A.Amirthalingam: We are not here to do that.
Let them move their amendments at the Committee stage. We will consider
Apart from that, what are you objecting to?
I am willing to consider any amendments, but move them at the proper
A.Amirthalingam: I am here to place my point of view. It is up to
your Government to do what you want.
The position of the Government is that they are willing to consider
A.Amirthalingam: Unfortunately, that is only a small aspect of the
problem we are concerned with. Our main problem is something else. I
will come to that presently.
They are beating about the bush!
A.Amirthalingam: Let them also have some relaxation. As I said in
the course of my comments in Tamil on the language provisions of this
Bill. Mr. Speaker, as far as –
the TULF is concerned!
A.Amirthalingam: the Tamil Nation is concerned [Interruption.]
Order, Please! Please do not interrupt the hon.Member.
A.Amirthalingam: In fact, last night I had the privilege of seeing the beautiful film produced by the hon.Member for Moratuwa (Mr.Tyronne Fernando) dealing with the life of the hero of the 1848 Rebellion in Matale.
A.Amirthalingam: But I was stuck by one thing. The nation the
whole time that is referred to is the Sinhala Nation. There is no
Ceylonese National there. No one can deny that. I am not finding fault.
That is correct. I am sure the hon.Member, the producer himself –
That was when the Tamils never fought for Ceylon.
When we fought you were hiding in the hills.
A.Amirthalingam: In fact, I am not complaining about it. That is
as it should be. Puran Appu was a great hero who fought for the Sinhala
Nation. We honour him for that. We do not deny him that position. But,
in the same way the moment we say we are a Tamil Nation they start
shouting. We are equally proud of Sangili, the King of Jaffna, who
fought for the freedom of the Tamil Nation. We are equally proud of
Bandara Vanniyan, the King of the Vanni, who fought for the freedom of
the Tamil Nation. What is wrong?
A.Amirthalingam: In fact, the resolution at the Vaddukoddai
Convention which I read out sets down the basis on which we state that
we are a separate nation entitled to the right of self-determination. I
cannot undertake a lecture in political theory at this state on the
elements that go to constitute nationhood. To say the least a nation has
been defined as a territorially evolved community of people united by
language, religion, common tradition and culture and a will to live
together as one nation. Now, let us apply that to this country. There
are two peoples speaking two languages. They have, by far and large,
professed two religions. They have two different traditions and
cultures. They have historically lived apart till the foreigners yoked
them together. Till 1833 we have lived apart. They yoked us together.
English education linked us together. Our leaders of the past generation
thought of themselves as one nation. They started speaking of a
Ceylonese nation. In fact, the hon.Member for Agalawatta (Mr.Merril
Kariyawasam) said that the Tamils never fought for freedom. But the
person who formed or inaugurated the Ceylon National Congress and was
the first President of the Ceylon National Congress was Sir Ponnambalam
Arunachalam, a Tamil. And you say that the Tamils never fought for
We are proud of that, but Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam fought for all
Ceylonese, not for the Tamils only.
Whatever one’s political allegiance, I do not think that is an
attitude that any hon.Member should adopt when that revered name is
mentioned in this House. Hon.Leader of the Opposition, please proceed.
A.Amirthalingam: Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, Sir Ponnambalam
Ramanathan, Sir James Peries, Mr.F.R.Senanayake and various other
leaders joined together. So a statement like the one coming from the
hon.Member for Agalawatta (Mr.Merril Kariyawasam) that the Tamils never
fought for freedom in this country is, to say the least uncharitable,
unfair and untrue.
leaders in the past generation thought that a common nationhood had been
evolved, but I am sorry to say that the events that have taken place in
this country since 1948 more than anything else have demonstrated
unmistakably that the two nations continue to live apart, ad the only
change that has been brought about in the name of freedom is that one
nation, the majority nation, has been enthroned in the seat of power and
the minority nation has been made a subject nation; and it has been our
task in the last two decades or more to try and win back the rights that
have been denied to us one after another.
Order, please. The Sitting is suspended for half an hour. On resumption
the Deputy Speaker will take the Chair.
Sitting accordingly suspended till 4.30pm and then resumed, Mr.Deputy Speaker [Mr.M.A.Bakeer Markar] in the Chair.
Mr.Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation. Just before
the tea break I made a certain comment when the hon.Leader of the
Opposition was speaking, and I think the Hon.Speaker misunderstood me on
a certain point. What I mentioned was that people like Sir Ponnambalam
Ramanathan and Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam fought for the Ceylonese as a
nation – that is what I said – and not for the Tamils only as a
nation. I think the Hon.Speaker misunderstood me on that point. I want
to make that explanation so that it will go on record. I must add that
we have the highest regard for leaders like Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan
and Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam – leaders who fought for the rights of
the Ceylonese as a nation.
A.Amirthalingam: Mr.Deputy Speaker, at the time the Sitting was
suspended for tea I had dealt with the definition of nationhood and
shown that Ceylon is the home of two nations and that the transference
of political power by colonial masters into the hands of the people of
this country has taken the form of enthroning the majority nation in the
seats of power and enslaving the minority nation.
ever since the grant of independence various legislative and
administrative actions have been taken by successive Governments which
have had the effect of reducing the share that the minorities have in
political power in this country. The resolution that was taken by the
TULF in 1976 which I read out fully enumerates the various legislative
and administrative acts by successive Governments for the last 30 years
since 1948 which have led up to the present situation. In that
connection, people talk very loosely of equality.
of the foremost historians of this country and a nominee of the United
National Party to the University Grants Commission, Professor K.M.de
Silva, has recently written a monograph entitled ‘Discrimination in
Sri Lanka’. In this he sums up the dominant role of Sinhala Buddhists
in Sri Lanka polity in the following terms. I am quoting from Professor
K.M.de Silva’s publication ‘Discrimination in Sri Lanka’. He has
actually taken over a passage about the position of Hindus in India from
a book written by a professor there and he has adopted with approval the
same thing in Ceylon. This is what he says:
‘The Sinhalese Buddhists are the largest, and also the dominant
element in the population of Sri Lanka. They are the masters and rulers.
They have regained political power after many centuries, and are fully
aware of it., perhaps over-aware. They are the only sources of energy
for the country, considered as a human machine; and it is their desires
and aspirations which keep it running. No other element counts…’
is the summing up of an element professor of our time – Professor
K.M.de Silva – of the role of the various sections of the people.
When has he written it?
A.Amirthalingam: It is in a monograph entitled, ‘Discrimination
in Sri Lanka’.
What is the date?
A.Amirthalingam: It is a recent publication. It has been published
in1976 or 1977.
He may have written it long ago?
A.Amirthalingam: No. I think he was your nominee to the University
It may have been in 1956. That is why I asked for the date.
A.Amirthalingam: No. This is of recent origin. I saw it myself.
It must be in the context of the 1950s.
A.Amirthalingam: I think the context became far worse in the 1970s
and in the context of the events that happened in August 1977, it is far
worse. I am not saying that it is the action of the Government, but the
events that took place in this country have created that situation.
There is no doubt about that. When we consider a Constitution for this
country we will have to consider not merely the aspirations of one
section of the people. It may be that they are politically dominant, a
politically powerful section, whose views count in so far as elections
are concerned, but that is no reason why one should expect the
politically down-trodden section to accept that position. Now, therein
comes the conflict and for the last 30 years this conflict has raged
over various matters.
first matter was on citizenship. One section of the people was
decitizenized, disfranchized; their representation was taken away and
what should have gone to them by way of representation accrued to the
benefit of the majority community and they who are actually 70 percent
of the population in this country got 80 percent representation in the
Legislature. That was the distortion of democracy which took place as a
result of the citizenship laws, followed up by amendments to the
Parliamentary Elections Order in Council which took place in 1951.
came the language laws and in the course of my speech in Tamil I dealt
with the strenous struggle that the Tamil-speaking people put up for
their language rights.
Now you have won that struggle.
A.Amirthalingam: I admit that the provisions contained in the
present draft Bill are a definite improvement on all that we have had
for the last twenty two years. I do not deny that – I believe in
giving credit where credit is due. All I say is – I said this earlier
too – the concept of equality is not there.
There is no discrimination on the grounds of race? This is the first
time in the history of this country that provision has been made that
there will be no discrimination on grounds of race.
A.Amirthalingam: If the Hon.Minister of Finance had his way, if he
did things as he wanted, he will not discriminate. The Soulbury
Constitution in Article 29 imposed a bar against discriminatory
legislation. But what was the use of that? Discrimination was rampant,
discrimination went ahead, and they passed the Sinhala Oly Act and they
disfranchised and de-citizenized over a million people. The law was
helpless. Even in this matter, though unequal, fair recognition of
certain language rights is given in this draft Bill, but there is no
provision made for enforcing the use of the Tamil language.
Speaker, as far as the official language is concerned, there is
provision in the Constitution that any public servant who enters public
service through a medium other than the official language is required,
is compelled, to acquire proficiency in the official language. If the
provisions in the Constitution relating to the right of the
Tamil-speaking person in any part of Sri Lanka to transact business with
the Government or with a department or office of Government in the Tamil
language is to be a reality, there should be a requirement that a
knowledge of that language also should be acquired. Even in the colonial
days the old civil servants were expected to acquire a knowledge of boh
the national languages.
I have passed two examinations in Tamil.
A.Amirthalingam: That is why I said that you are an exception.
There is no such provision here. I know the difficulty of the
Government. In fact we had some difficulty in 1966 when we formed part
of the Government. They could not and they did not dare to ask the
Sinhala public servant to acquire proficiency in Tamil. Why? Because
they are the masters, they are the rulers; how can they ask them? The
Tamil public servant can be asked to comply, and if he does not he can
May I interrupt? If you look at the proviso to Article 22 there is
reference to any language. That means even Tamil is compulsory. Take an
interpreter in Tamil or in Sinhala. Qualification in either language
would be required. I am referring to proviso (2) of Article 22.
A.Amirthalingam: This is followed by the provisions under the
Chapter on Language. The proviso to Article 12(2) is to guard against a
Tamil public servant taking up the position that he cannot be compelled
to acquire proficiency in Sinhala and not to compel a Sinhala public
servant to acquire proficiency in Sinhala.
‘A person shall be entitled to be examined through the medium of
either of the National Languages at any examination for the admission of
persons to the Public Service, Judicial Service, Local Government
Service, public corporation or statutory institution, subject to the
condition that he may be required to have a sufficient knowledge of the
Official Language or to acquire such knowledge within a specified time
after admission to the Public Service, Judicial Service, Local
Government Service, public corporation or statutory institution, where
such knowledge is reasonably necessary for the discharge of his
is no corresponding provision asking anyone to acquire proficiency in
the other National Language. I am aware of the difficulty that is there
for the Government, because, after all, the public servants are a big
force and they cannot be compelled. In fact, the UNP at its sessions in
Panadura in 1964 adopted a resolution that all public servants should be
required to study both the languages. In 1965 before we joined the UNP
in forming the National Government, in the course of negotiations, the
then Prime Minister as well as the present President, the
Hon.J.R.Jayewardene, stated that their policy was also to require all
public servants to acquire a working knowledge of the other language.
But during the whole five years they were in office from 1965 to 1970
they could not implement the Tamil Language Regulations and they did not
want to call upon the Sinhala public servants to acquire proficiency in
Tamil, whereas they continued to dismiss several Tamil public servants,
as is being done even today. Even mortuary attendants are being
dismissed for want of a knowledge of Sinhala. They want them to talk in
Sinhala to the corpses! In Jaffna a mortuary attendant has been
dismissed for want of proficiency in Sinhala. Railway porters are being
dismissed. But this does not apply to a Sinhala public servant. So,
where is the equality? I ask Members of the Government. And this
Constitution only ensures the continuation of that position. It does not
make any change in so far as that is concerned.
that, our bitter experience has been, as I said, in 1956 the late
Mr.Bandaranaike introduced the ‘Sinhala Only’ Act. At the time of
its introduction or shortly before, the Draft included provisions for
certain rights for the Tamil language, but merely because
Prof.F.R.Jayasuriya and Mr.K.M.P.Rajaratne went on a glucose-eating fast
in the precincts of this House he dropped the provisions relating to the
use of Tamil.
in 1957 he entered into a pact with us. In 1958 he tore it up –
What about the march to Kandy?
A.Amirthalingam: after we were incarcerated. When we were in jail
the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act was passed in 1958. But, for
20 years that has remained a dead letter. The law passed in 1958 has not
been implemented up-to-date.
we were in the Government in 1966 we got Regulations passed under the
Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act in order to implement that. But
even those Regulations which were passed 12 years ago have not been
implemented up-to-date. So, are you surprised if Tamil people today ask,
‘What is the guarantee that these paper provisions will be
implemented, that all these will not continue to remain a dead
entire set-up in the country is such that there is no one to worry when
the rights of the minorities,when the rights of the Tamil people, are
denied. That is the position. So, we are not much enamoured by paper
is why in the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact as well as in the Dudley
Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact language formed part of an overall
settlement. It formed part of an overall settlement involving
decentralization and regional autonomy, safeguarding of territory and
homeland of the Tamil people and the granting of certain rights to the
Tamil language. In that context, it was as part of an overall settlement
that the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact was signed on the 26th
of July 1957 and similarly, it was as part of an overall settlement, an
interim settlement no doubt, that the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam
Pact was signed on the 24th of March 1965.
of the other matters which has been identified as a matter that affects
the Tamil people, that has agitated the minds of the Tamil people, is
the question of their traditional homelands in this country. We are now
coming into a stage when hon.Members can even get up and deny there is
any place which is our traditional home. When I spoke of that, some
hon.Member said, ‘What about Wellawatte?’
what has happened in the Eastern Province has not happened in any other
part. In the Eastern Province and in Puttalam influx of population of an
unprecedented nature has taken place over the last 25 years which has
resulted in a total change of the demographic pattern of those areas.
That, we say, is unfair. Because, however much a minority may spread, it
can never become a majority. But it, into the territory of the minority,
the majority spreads, the minority gets completely submerged. That is
the danger, and that is why from that time onwards we have been putting
forward a demand for the safeguard of the traditional territories
occupied by the Tamil-speaking people in this country.
late Mr.Bandaranaike accepted that position and, as part of that overall
settlement which included certain provisions relating to language, this
was the agreement with regard to colonization:
‘It was agreed that in the matter of colonization schemes the
powers of regional councils shall include the power to select allottees
to whom lands within their area of authority shall be alienated and also
the power to select personnel to be employed for work in such schemes.
The position regarding the area at present administered by the
Gal Oya Development Board in this matter requires consideration.’
this connection there was a lot of agitation and Mr.Bandaranaike
thereafter clarified his position and issued a statement on 16th
August 1957. This is the policy which he laid down, and I am sure that
it is a policy which all fair-minded people will accept as just:
‘The instrument of colonization should not be used to convert
the Northern and Eastern Provinces into Sinhalese majority areas or in
any other manner to the detriment of the Tamil-speaking people of those
is the policy which he adopted and accepted, and I should say in
fairness to him that thereafter, during his tenure of office between
1957 and 1959 this planned colonization ceased for a time.
is not he alone that has accepted this position. The late Mr.Dudley
Senanayake, along with our President, Mr.J.R.Jayewardene, in the course
of the discussions they had and the agreement they signed on the 24th
March 1965, agreed as follows:
‘Mr.Senanayake further agreed that in the granting of land
under colonization schemes the following provision be observed in the
Northern and Eastern Provinces:
Land in the Northern and Eastern Provinces should in the first
instance be granted to landless persons in the district, secondly to
Tamil-speaking persons resident in the Northern and Eastern Provinces,
and thirdly, to other citizens of Ceylon, preference being given to
Tamil citizens in the rest of the Island.’
That was the agreement, and I am sure His Excellency the President himself, who was personally present and participated in the discussions at the house of Dr.M.V.P.Peiris, will accept this position as having been agreed to by the then Prime Minister.
the leaders of the two major Parties have accepted a certain premise,
have accepted a certain position in regard to colonization. That is a
matter that has been agitating the minds not only of the Tamils and the
TULF, but also Tamils and Muslims in general because, as you know, Sir,
in the Eastern Province it is the territories occupied by the Muslims
that have been invaded more and affected more as a result of these
the time of Constitution making, when we consider the whole question of
the relationship of the various sections of the people, if I may say it
in a more staight-forward way, when we are face to face with the rights
and the denial of rights and consequent conflicts between two nations
which have been inhabiting this country from time immemorial, we have to
work out a solution which is acceptable to both sections, which will
lead to the harmonious living together of the two nations.
Why can you not live? Can I ask the hon.Leader of the Opposition a
question? On the question of land and colonization, do you expect such
matters to be embodied in the Constitution? I am raising a point of
A.Amirthalingam: That is not a point of Order.
I would like a clarification.
A.Amirthalingam: The late Mr.Bandaranaike had given thought to it
and introduced a solution to the colonization question as part of the
scheme of decentralisation by granting power over the region to the
people of the region, granting power over colonization schemes to the
regional councils, thereby safeguarding the rights of the people of that
Wait till our scheme of decentralization takes place under the District
A.Amirthalingam: I do not want to be drawn into this District
Minister scheme because we do not know where it stands. It has no legs
to stand on. It is just a White Paper which may become a black paper
tomorrow, and we do not know what may become of it. In fact, I would
have expected – and we would have welcomed – a scheme of this type
to have formed part of this Constitution. A scheme of decentralization,
a scheme of devolution of power, a scheme of granting autonomy, a scheme
of granting greater autonomy, some form of decentralization, could have
formed part of the Constitution, as it has been done in a number of
countries all over the world. Where the relations between territorial
nationalities had to be settled they have adopted certain solutions and
incorporated them in the Constitution. We expected that that would be
done, and that is why we waited all this time. We were hoping that this
Government would do that.
have at a personal level – I think the Hon.Minister of Finance knows
this – explained to them that we were expecting an inclusion of
certain schemes of decentralization in this Constitution, but
unfortunately all that has been left out. There is a Chapter on
Fundamental Rights which is partly a repetition of the Chapter to the
old Constitution. The language rights have no doubt gone further than
any previous Constitution, but there is no certainty, no guarantee of
their being implemented. On the contrary, the present stamp of
inferiority is perpetuated in Articles 9, 18 and every other provision
of this Constitution. As I said before, even in the language provisions
there is the stamp of inferiority.
of opportunity is denied to the Tamil public servant when he is called
upon to acquire proficiency in Sinhala whereas his counterpart who
enters through the Sinhala medium is not called upon to acquire any such
proficiency. We see that there is discrimination, discriminatory
treatment, and this Constitution perpetuates that discrimination.
am not putting forward all my arguments with regard to the colonization
schemes, decentralization and various other matters and saying that they
are not what we have been asking for. The Government has in its own
manifesto, the UNP manifesto, said that they will find a solution to the
problem that the Tamil people are worried about with regard to
colonization. It is up to them to have found a solution for it. They
have failed to do so. As far as we are concerned we have made our
position clear. Over the last thirty years we have tried all methods of
getting our rights in this country, within the framework of a united
Ceylon. All our efforts have proved fruitless, Agreements we entered
into with leaders who may be called the mentors of the two major
parties, the late Mr.S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike and the late Mr.Dudley
Senanayake, but all those agreements have proved futile.
If I may interrupt the hon.Member, District Ministers are covered in
A.Amirthalingam: I know there is a reference to District Ministers
and decentralization. What I say is that a passing reference to District
Ministers and decentralization does not satisfy. That is not the
machinery for decentralization.
It is not a passing reference. That is unfair.
A.Amirthalingam: I have studied this draft fairly carefully and I
know that there is a reference to District Ministers – District
Ministers who are to be appointed by the President to carry out the
policy of the President and the Cabinet and who shall be Members,
according to the White Paper, of the Government Parliamentary Group.
That is the District Ministers set-up. [Interruption]. There is
nothing in the Constitution. And to call that a measure of
decentralization, I think, exhibits an ignorance of constitutional
matters which I do not want to get involved in.
With all due respect to the hon.Leader of the Opposition I am sure he
will admit that decentralization has been and can be worked in different
countries in different ways. Decentralization can be brought as an
administrative measure as has been done in many countries.
Decentralization has been brought by means of specific devolution bills
as you very well know. Decentralization may also be embodied in certain
constitutions, though they are very few instances where this has been
done. In the large majority of countries decentralization is brought as
a purely administrative measure which we hope to do or as separate
devolution bills outside the Constitution as they hope to do in the U.K.
So thee are various ways of doing it. I say, be patient and we will do
it. When we do it we will meet some of your wishes.
A.Amirthalingam: When you do it we will consider it.
What the Hon.Minister says is that an executive function at the centre
will be decentralized and taken to the district.
It need not be spelled out in the Constitution.
A.Amirthalingam: That is physical decentralization. That is not
devolution of power.Power should be given to the people of the region,
the people of the area. That is what democratic decentralization means.
What you are suggesting is a regional set-up. What the Government is
saying is that the executive in the centre is being decentralized. That
is the difference.
A.Amirthalingam: Quite so. I thank you, Mr.Deputy Speaker, for
clarifying the position.
Regarding these regional councils on which the hon.Leader of the
Opposition spoke, it was an idea of Mr.Chelvanayakam when the Federal
Party was in the Government with the UNP. He drafted the Bill and it was
on a local government basis that power was to be vested in the regional
is the Bill brought by the Hon.Prime Minister yesterday to amalgamate
rural councils and town councils. Under that Bill we can take up this
issue, not under the Constitution.
A.Amirthalingam: With all respect to the Hon.fair Minister of
Shipping & Tourism, the district councils contemplated under the
Dudley Senanayake Government and the Bill for that purpose drafted by
Mr.Tiruchelvam were not a measure of local government. They were meant
as a measure of decentralization of power. District councils were to be
elected by the people and they were to be clothed with power to take
policy decisions on their own within limited fields subject to certain
directions by the Central Government and to carry on their affairs in
their own way.
same thing was there in the regional councils draft Bill which was
gazetted by the late Mr.Bandaranaike in 1957 and to which he agreed to
certain amendments to meet our demands and aspirations in so far as
colonization and matters like that were concerned. Power was to be given
to the people. Now there is to be administrative decentralization;
without having the centre of government in one place it is divided up.
After all, whether a District Minister appointed by the President is to
rule over us or whether a Government Agent appointed by the President
rules over us makes little difference. In place of a bureaucratic head
you are appointing a political head. That is not decentralization. I am
sure the Hon.Minister of Finance realizes this.
But Members of Parliament will be in the district councils.
I know the solution to the problem but I do not wish to spell it out
A.Amirthalingam: I know how far you are prepared to go but I do
not want to mention that here. So there are various solutions to the
matters agitating the Tamil people which could have been included in the
Government speaks of fundamental rights, of a Charter of Human Rights.
In fact the Hon.Prime Minister called this Constitution ‘A way of
life’. Now, Sir, the most essential and the most fundamental of
fundamental rights which is recognized universally is enshrined in
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ‘Everyone has
the right to life, liberty and security of person’. With all respect,
I ask hon.Members of this House, can they say that the right to life,
liberty and security of person has been guaranteed to the Tamil people
in this country during the last one year? I say emphatically, No! Even
today intimidations, threats, are going on –
What about the ‘Tigers’?
A.Amirthalingam: - and hundreds of people who have been long
settled in the midst of our Sinhalese brethren feel that they can no
longer live there. [Interruption.] Whether it is the tigers or
the lions that caused it I do not know, but I am only concerned with the
reality of the situation and the plight of the people. One has only to
read the harrowing tales that are being told; one has only to go into
the refugee camps in places like Visvamadu, Nedunkerni,Muthiankattu,
Adampan and other places, to realize whether these people have the right
to live, the right to liberty and security of person. They have not even
the right to defend themselves.
What about Wellawatta?
A.Amirthalingam: Even in Wellawatte. There are good Samaritans,
may be, like the Hon.Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Sports who
has no prejudices on this score. We know there are people like that; but
let us face facts, let us be realists. A situation has been created
particularly after August 1977 when the bulk of the people feel that the
two nations cannot live together. Let us find a way in which, if they
cannot live together, in which they can live apart – they can live
apart, equally and peacefully as friends. Let us find a way.
would expect the people who draft a constitution for this country in
this context to be aware of the realities of the situation and provide
for that. That is the most important, the most crying problem of today.
The rest of it, the mechanics of government, the changes in the
administrative machinery, and so on, can be done, but the oldest problem
in this country and the problem that yet remains a running sore which
ostrich-like some of our politicians are refusing to face, are seeking
to bury their heads in the sand and pretending that the problem does not
exist is the problem of the relationship between the two nations living
in this country. So, unless the Constitution can provide for these two
nations to live equally, freely and on friendly terms, the Constitution
cannot be accepted.
We who are pledged to work for the freedom, for the liberation of
our people who, we say, have been enslaved first by the Portuguese, next
by the Dutch, next by the British, and now in the name of independence
by our own brothers, the Sinhalese nation, want our freedom. We want ro
rule ourselves in our homeland, we do not want inroads being made into
our territory, we do not want our future generations to be totally
annihilated in this country and to cease to exist as a separate entity.
It is with that in view that we have put forward our demand. Our people
have endorsed that demand and we intend going forward in our own way.
The law is against us. We may be locked up. The might of the Government
is against us. We may be shot and we may be killed.
A.Amirthalingam: We may be attacked.
Our boys may even be drowned, but we intend going forward. [Interruption.]
But we intend going forward to win the freedom and the rights of our
people to live as free citizens in their own country, ruling themselves.
Mr.Deputy Speaker, it is in this context that we approach this
Constitution, and we say we cannot accept this Constitution. Whatever
comments I may have made with regard to the defailed provisions of this
Constitution, we cannot compromise on the fundamental position that our
party has taken throughout that we will not be a party to the making of
this Constitution and we will not participate any further in the
deliberations on this Bill.”
End Note by Sachi Sri Kantha
It is somewhat ironic that in this historic speech, Amirthalingam
had anticipated his premature death, eleven years ahead. He had
“The might of the Government is against us. We may be shot and we may
But, he would not have anticipated that he would be betrayed by those on
whom he trusted – the Indian Intelligence Operatives and the rogue
elements in the LTTE, who functioned as the local relays of the Indian
Intelligence Operatives. It is to the credit of the LTTE leadership that
the local relays who extinguished the life of Amirthalingam in 1989 were
eventually identified and punished appropriately.
August 22, 2003.