by Thambu Kanagasabai, November 26, 2018
The classic definition of democracy by the world statesman Abraham Lincoln ‘democracy is by the people, for the people and of the people” simply confirms the power of people and how the power should be used for the rights, welfare and dignity of the people.
Democracy took its roots in Sri Lanka from 1948 when it gained its status as a free, independent and sovereign nation and becoming a member of United Nations in 1955. Since 1948 twenty five general elections and presidential elections were held which were all free and fair sticking to democratic practices and norms? Sri Lanka’s majority community Sinhalese have been holding the reins of power since then. The concept of “majority rule with the consent of minority’ is however never found its recognition and adoption by the Sri Lanka’s Sinhala ruling parties. In Sri Lanka it is majority rule to marginalize the minorities. The rot of only preserving and implementing the interests of majority Sinhalese commenced in 1956 with the introduction of ‘SINHALA ONLY’ Act in 1956.Since then majority rule prevailed in all spheres marginalizing the minorities and throwing to winds the concept of ‘democracy for the people’ and instead democracy for the domination of majority Sinhalese. Democratic elections provided the cover and shield the discrimination and marginalization of minority communities particularly Tamils.
Various legislations and governmental measures were aimed at Tamils by the democratically elected Sri Lankan Governments. Some of which are:-
- Sinhala Only Act of 1956
- Standardization of admission to Universities Act 1974
- Sinhala settlement schemes in the Tamils traditional and historical homeland in the North and East of Sri Lanka, coupled with an agenda of Sinhalisization and Buddhisisation by erecting Buddhist statues and Viharas where very only few/no Buddhists live
- Discrimination in state employment
- A 95% Sinhalese personnel in the Security forces and Police.
The above being the agenda of democratic majority community’s elected leaders who also never failed to lay hands on political dissidents, prominent leaders, human rights activists, journalists and rebels against the Government irrespective of Sinhalese or Tamils alike.
Almost all the leaders who ruled Sri Lanka captured power through democratic process, and while in power wielded the propensity for dictatorial attitude and methods to the detriment of minorities and political dissidents including media and journalists.
In Sri Lanka, democracy which is supposed to be a rule by the majority with the consent of minority, can be termed as a democracy in the hands of majority Sinhalese controlling the powers of Government to foster and preserve the Sinhalese race, Buddhist religion and Sinhala language of the majority only with state assisted schemes against minorities particularly Tamils aiming at their extinction in the island.
The undemocratic and hegemonic dictatorial measures unleashed against the Tamils, Muslims and political dissidents are numerous since 1956. Some of the harshest measures can be listed as follows:-
- Imposition of Sinhalese language on the minorities within 24 hours in 1956. A majority community’s dictatorial and democratic piece of legislation.
- State sponsored Sinhala colonization in Tamils traditional and historical homelands with intent to make Sri Lanka a Buddhist Sinhalese state. This is another dictatorial measure shielded by democracy [majority rule]
- Non-violent and peaceful agitations and protests by the Tamils and Tamil leaders were brutally and violently crushed by the Security Forces [Sathiyagraga led by late S. J. V. Chelvanayagam in the North and East in 1961 – Blockading the Kachcheries [Government Agent’s Offices] The Tamil leaders were arrested and put in jails. This clearly shows a pure dictatorial anti-democratic step carried by a democratic Government.
The International Tamil Conference which was held in Jaffna in 1974 ended halfway abruptly while the police started to assault the participants and arrest the key speakers in this event and due to the stampede eight civilians died on the spot. [The Sinhalese leaders were behind this act of violence – which was against the Tamils and promotion of Tamil language and their history and heritage in the North and East.]
- The democracy in Sri Lanka permitted its leaders and security forces to go ahead with the pogroms against the Tamils in 1956, 1958, 1971, 1977, 1983 and genocide from 2006-2009. Democratically elected Sinhalese leaders behaved dictatorially during the pogroms and genocide assisting, encouraging and supporting the security forces.
- Again the democracy of Sri Lanka has faithfully followed the culture of impunity for the security forces and top Government officials by protecting them from any civil or criminal suits in courts for the hoards of crimes including war crimes, crimes against humanity etc. committed since 1958 in addition to the 196 massacres of Tamil civilians since 1956.
- The democratic rights of Tamils were discarded by the Sri Lankan Governments which appointed eleven Commissions since 1977 to inquire into the various violence and issues connected with those violence against Tamils, the last being the Paranagama Commission on disappearances, the Reports of which have now become archives facing their ultimate demises.
- The Sri Lankan Government’s democratic functioning is adorned with the dictatorial customary practice of eliminating political dissidents, human rights activists, enemies and journalists which expose the sins and misdeeds of Government officials including security forces and police. So far more than twenty such political dissidents were killed to silence their democratic freedoms, while some went into exile to save their lives with some missing or disappeared like Journalist Prageeth Ekenaliagoda.
- One pillar of democracy, the judiciary is no exception to the soiling of democracy in Sri Lanka. From the time when executive presidential system was introduced in 1978, judiciary fell into the hold of executive president and became politicized mostly tilting in favour of Government machinery. A silver lining was seen in the recent judgment which suspended the President’s Order of dissolution of Parliament
- The former President Chandrika Bandaranayake behaved in a dictatorial fashion in 1996 when she declared a “war for peace’ against the Tamils in North and East against her own citizens, which caused untold miseries and sufferings to civilians who were forced to flee from their homes in thousands to save their lives.
In this respect former President J.R. Jayawardene also declared his genocidal intent in 1983 when like a dictator he said-
“I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now.. Now we cannot think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinion about us…The more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhalese people will be here… really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy.”
— From an interview with J.R. Jayewardene by Ian Ward. London Daily Telegraph, 11 July 1983.
- During the rule of President Mahinda Rajapakshe, dictatorial exercise of powers and installation of family rule led to the tampering of democratic norms with abuse of power, white van abductions and enforced disappearances. Killings and torture were routine practices coupled with open bribery, corruption and misappropriation of state funds.
- In Sri Lanka, democratic governments are also reputed to break promises made with International Community, United Nations and State leaders, not to mention their open and challenges of United Nations and United Nations Human Rights Council as to their own commitments made in October 2015 [UNHRC Resolution 30/1] Another important factor is the statutory commitments and provisions in the 13th Amendment [under Into-Sri Lanka Pact signed in 1967 by the then Prime Minister of India Late Rajive Ghandi and the late Prime Minster of Sri Lanka late J. R. Jayawardene] which authorized Northern Provincial Council [Northern and Eastern Provinces] to exercise powers over land and Police force which had been ignored and allowed to remain as dead and meaningless by the Government This is just another face of Sri Lanka’s democratic rule of observing its own laws.
The very recent happenings inside the Parliament and the pure dictatorial actions of the originators and instigators, the President and his collaborators speak volumes of pathetic state of democracy in Sri Lanka and the disgraceful level to which it has descended, purely due to dictatorial mindset and obsession of the President who appears to have attempted to settle his own political scores and personal vendetta against the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe ignoring condemnation from International Community and other civil organizations. With much water flown under the bridge, the fight between the rival major Sinhala political parties will eventually die down, but the sacrificial lambs will be Tamils who have been taught another lesson that their 70 year old problems will never be solved, instead they will be exploited by the major rival political parties in the south to capture the state power, through a democratic system which is meant only for the majority to serve their political interests and goals. [To make the whole island Sri Lanka a BUDDHIST SINHALA STATE where there is no place for Tamil speaking Hindu/Christians, Sinhala speaking/Christians and Muslims.]
To sum up, it is apt to state that in the name of democracy its democratically elected rulers have taken cover under democracy and have inflicted maximum miseries and sufferings including GENOCIDE of Tamils and only Almighty GOD can save the Tamils from this democratic dictatorial Sinhalese Governments.
It has to be stated that crowning of all the breaches of democracy is a Prime Minister who continues to hold office even after the passing of two no confidence motion in Parliament, this being the Sri Lankan brand of democracy allowing two Prime Ministers challenging each other. As for the Tamils, a benevolent Dictatorship is preferable to a genocidal democracy.
Thambu Kanagasabai, LLM [Lond.] Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka