It is a Matter of Trust

By M.Nadarajan

So much of mistrust exists between the Sinhalese and Tamil nations that the LTTE had to ask for the government’s position in writing. It is said, "Once bitten twice shy." If you are bitten many times, you have to watch every step of the way. Trust is something that has to be earned. Fortunately, this time around the facilitator and the international community are aware of what is happening and all cannot be fooled all the time.

Let us look briefly at the immediate past history of the problem. Irrespective of arguments as to who came first to the island, the Sinhalese believe the legend called Mahavamsa, and think they came first, notwithstanding the archeologically proven existence of Hindu Temples in the island long before Vijaya’s arrival; Nagas and Yakkas living in the island; Buddha’s visit to the island to settle a fight between two Naga Kings; Ravana (?) and Kuweni; and the recent pooh- poohing of all theories as to who came first by Ex-Archeological Commissioner Prof. Dr Paravitharana, who recently claimed the existence of mankind on the island several thousands of years earlier than previously believed backed by archeological and scientific evidence.

It would suffice to say that at the time of the advent of the first colonial power, there were three separate kingdoms, a Sinhalese kingdom in the Center, ruled at that time by a Tamil King, another Sinhalese Kingdom in the low country areas of the South and West, and a Tamil Kingdom in the North and East of the island. All three colonial powers ruled the parts of the country conquered by them separately. The last, the British after the Colebrook Commission’s visit, brought the entire island under one administration for administrative convenience in 1833.

The North and East of the country, where the majority of the population are Tamils, have been recognized as the homeland of the Tamil-speaking people, which includes Muslims, in all the pacts signed between Sinhalese and Tamils (later abrogated unilaterally by the Sinhalese), and explicitly in the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, consequent to which the Northern and Eastern provinces were merged into the Northeastern Province.

The reasons why Tamils opted for separation are well known. In brief, starting from the time of independence Tamils were discriminated against in every sphere of activity; nearly a million losing their voting rights; loss of education and employment opportunities; lack of development; burning of their cherished library; and denial of language and other rights, equality, dignity, and justice. The clauses in the 1948 Constitution that gave some protection for minority rights were removed, and the second chamber which also gave some small protection was abolished.  New constitutions giving pride of place for Buddhism were enacted without participation of Tamils.

Lucien Rajakaruna writing in the Daily News of July 31st bemoans, "East was always volatile due to the presence of Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese in equal numbers."  How did this come about? As pointed out by this writer in an article which appeared on several websites recently titled "Fait Accompli," this division was by planned, systematic, extensive colonization of Tamil-speaking areas by Sinhalese, chasing away Tamils and Muslims from their lands, giving most of the government land to Sinhalese, changing names of villages and towns to Sinhalese names, and building Buddhist temples in areas where there had been none. All this was done at the government’s expense using tax payers’ (including Tamils') money. The Sinhalese government set about to change the demography of mainly the East, and some parts of the North as well, and they accomplished it - "Fait Accompli."  According to the Department of Census and Statistics, the percentage of Sinhalese population of the erstwhile Eastern Province was 4.2% in 1924, under 10% in 1947, (the year before independence), and now they claim it to be almost a third. The population of Sinhalese and Muslims together now form a majority over Tamils. Now there are talks about a referendum only in the erstwhile Eastern Province (why only in the East?) to find out if Easterners want to be a part of the merged province, and, if not, to de-merge the North and East! There are already mischief-makers, including some in prominent positions and leading politicians, who want to capitalize on the breakaway of renegade Karuna from the main LTTE.  Of course, they deny being involved despite enough evidence to the contrary.

In July, 1979 President Jayawardena asked the army commander of the Northeast to wipe out all those who spearheaded the movement for independence by December that year. This is genocide according to the covenants of the United Nations. In an interview with a correspondent of the Daily Telegraph of the UK, the President said he did not care about what happened to the Tamils so long as the Sinhalese were pleased. He also made an infamous speech in which he said, "if you want war, we will give you war; if you want peace, we will give you peace." By these actions and statements Jayawardena abrogated his rights to rule over Tamils.

Tamils tried democratic and non-violent Satyagraha methods to get redress. They were prepared to live in one country with the Sinhalese, but wanted equality and greater representation in Parliament. A party that requested a federal type of government was soundly defeated early on, and another that stood for separation was so badly beaten that both candidates lost their election deposits. Tamil requests were not only turned down, but also resulted in several pogroms against them, most times assisted by government forces. Thousands of lives were lost and billions of property destroyed. Finally the Tamils formed a united party called the Tamil United Liberation Front and as a last resort asked for separation. At the elections held in1977 TULF obtained a massive mandate to seek separation

Thereafter extensive powers were given to the security forces to arrest, and even kill, without a suspect being arraigned before a judicial official. This led to arrests, tortures, rapes and killings at will. The Terrorism Act was described by International Jurists like Paul Seigart as the worst such legislation in the world. Tamil youth then took to arms.

After the pogrom of July 1983 against Tamils war broke out.  President Jayawardena purposely delayed taking action to redress Tamil grievances.  

At this point it must be mentioned that the leader of the LTTE who has used his Martyr’s day speech as a policy statement for the year always mentioned that they were for a peaceful solution of the problem, and continues to do so.

At a Conference arranged by India at Thimpu, Bhutan in 1985, all Tamil democratic parties and the militants jointly put up a proposal that they would give up the demand for a separate state provided Tamil aspirations were met. The aspirations were spelt out and included the right of self-determination in their own homeland. People who do not understand federalism, or do not want to do so, talk loosely about territorial integrity and sovereignty being at risk, as if countries that have a federal type of government have lost their territorial integrity and sovereignty!! However, the government brushed aside the Tamil request and the talks broke down.

The government shortly afterward imposed an embargo on food and medicine going to the Tamil homeland. This in itself is a war crime. There is no need to repeat what happened during the IPKF involvement and their withdrawal, nor the complicity of President Premadasa, who had no desire for peace. Talks commenced with the government, but broke down over non-fulfillment of agreements reached.

Eventually Chandrika got elected as President promising to solve the ethnic problem.

The LTTE declared a unilateral ceasefire after her election and the government followed. However, despite the exchanging of over 40 letters between the President and the LTTE leader, and four rounds of talks, of a day’s duration each, held with the government being represented by politically inexperienced bureaucrats, who could neither take decisions, nor get approval for decisions taken, the talks broke down.  Chandrika declared her impossible "war for peace." The war intensified and the government attempted a scorched earth policy. Carpet bombing and shelling from the sea were resorted to.

When the UNF won the elections in December 2001, the LTTE again declared a unilateral ceasefire and the government responded. Eventually a MOU was signed with the help of Norway It was based on the concept of parity between the two parties and bringing normalcy of the lives of the people most affected, the Tamils.

As a result of the war over 800,000 emigrated as external refugees and nearly a million were internally displaced many, displaced multiple times. These are Chandrika’s figures. Ranil has said that 80,000 persons have been killed in the war, but the number is more like 100,000. This is not the place to give details of the destruction of schools, hospitals, places of worship, and residences nor the suffering of women and children, their education or the amount of malnutrition amongst them.

Even today, when it is decided to do some development work in Tamil areas, the ministry is placed under the authority of the President, and all senior officials who handle the subject are Sinhalese. The same is true in the case of the Governor of the Northeast Province, who is a Sinhalese and an ex-military man at that.  The majority of the police force are Sinhalese. They do not know the language of the people of the area.  People have great difficulty in making statements to the police, and have to sign statements that they do not understand. Some Government agents of totally Tamil-speaking Districts are Sinhalese.

Lately in the "La Karuna affair" denials and lies have been told from the highest of the land down, in the face of obvious facts. Just because someone issues a denial, it does not mean that the person has spoken the truth. In the same way, occasional statements by a minority in the government that the government believes in Peace is not true just because they say so.

As mentioned earlier, trust has to be earned and actions speak better than words.

In view of what has been stated above, it is small wonder if Tamils do not trust the Sinhalese government.


Posted August 11, 2004