Do You Think The Tamil Ethnic Question Would Ever Be Solved?

by C.V. Wigneswaran, Colombo Telegraph, October 14, 2019

C.V. Wigneswaran

Someone asked: Do you think the Tamil Ethnic question would ever be solved and all Sri Lankans could travel along a common path to peace and prosperity? 

My response was: Yes of course! The time is ripe now for the resolving of the so called ethnic question. A mystic in Jaffna told me in the 1980s that the Bandaranaike name after SWRD Bandaranaike would last only for 50 years from 1956. By 2006 I believe the name lost its political significance. Chandrika is not Bandaranaike. She is Mrs.Kumaratunga. Similarly I believe the ethnic question is nearing resolution. It has had a 100 years’ run from 1919.

When the British Government was prepared to give self government to the Ceylonese in 1919 the Sinhala Leaders then conspired to take over political power into their hands for certain reasons. The reasons that seemed to have prompted them to do so could be identified as follows – 

1. Ceylon is the only Country for the Sinhalese in this world. Therefore we must take control of political power unto ourselves and keep all other communities under our control. They should be made to depend on us.

2. The Tamils have received disproportionate share in the Governmental Machinery due to the partiality of the British. We must now take the strangle hold unto our hands. The Tamils must be made powerless.

3. Unless we destabilize the Tamils in every possible way from now on we would not be able to take back the Country into our hands.

From then on the Sinhalese Political Leaders worked their conspiratorial scheme to perfection. Pan Sinhalese Cabinet, the dis-enfranchisement of Upcountry Tamils, State Colonisation of traditional Tamil areas with Sinhalese from elsewhere, Standardisation in education, planned pogroms and riots intermittently, description of Tamil freedom fighters as Terrorists and destroying them with International help and driving wedges between Tamil and other minority groups specially in the Eastern Province were all symptomatic of the basic thought processes that drove the minds of Sinhala Political Leaders so far. We could identify that hatred, fear, jealousy and many other negative feelings have got saturated in the minds of the Sinhala Political leaders in years gone by due to false and distorted history of Sinhalese being purveyed. When J.R said as Executive President he could do anything except to make a man a woman and vice versa my relative Justice V.Manicavasagar said “I beat JR at Royal in Studies, Cricket and other games but he has become all powerful today”. 1983 pogrom was during JR’s tenure of office.   

Until now Sinhala Political and Social leaders have been thinking only along the lines their conspiratorial predecessors thought 100 years ago. I believe JR was the live wire in keeping this process alive.

But the situation changed for the worse during the past few years. What started as a reaction to Tamil influence during British times have gone beyond limits. Not only have Tamils been chased out of the South and many from the Island itself except the Greater Colombo area, their businesses destroyed and their influence in the State Services negated and lands of the Tamils in the South expropriated but the vengeance and venom of Sinhala Leaders have now set up ethnic cleansing as their final goal. Colonisation and expropriation of traditionally Tamil homelands in the North and East are taking place at a brisk pace with State patronage with the help of the armed forces and with the help of the Mahaweli Authority, Forest Department, Archaeology Department, Wild Life Department, Mines and Minerals Department, Fisheries Department and so on. What started as a reaction to the Tamils influence has gone beyond its limits now. 

The influence that Tamils weilded during British times was not due to any favouritism or partiality towards the Tamils practiced by the British. On the contrary the Tamils were hard working and trust worthy. The Up Country Tamils were hardy and dependable. The Sri Lankan Tamils were studious getting good results in Public Examinations. The British practiced meritocracy and we Tamils did better. Even today the world over the Sri Lankan Tamils have done extremely well. Given opportunity they are capable of doing wonders like the Jews. Having got rid of the Tamils from the South now the idea has got into the heads of the Sinhala Politicians that Northern and Eastern Provinces must soon be made Sinhala majority. Just like how Tamil Brahmins from Madurai who came for the Coronation of King Dharmapala about four hundred years ago were given lands in Ambalangoda – Balapitiya area and their descendants came to be identified as Sinhalese the idea behind continued presence of the Armed forces 10 years after the war, intensive Colonisation of the buffer area between Northern and Eastern Provinces, sending of large scale Sinhala Officers to the North and East, continuing to have Sinhalese officers manning the Police Stations all over the North and East, building of Buddhist places of worship in the North and East where no Buddhists live, complete distortion of history to suit Sinhala political hegemony, attempted annexing of certain areas in the Vavuniya District to the Sinhala Districts in the vicinity, forcible taking over of fishing in the seas of the North and East by Sinhalese fisherman from the South are all directed towards Sinhalisation of the North and East and ultimate negation of the presence of the Tamils in their own traditional homelands. Already Sri Lankan Tamils are referred to as illegal immigrants during Chola times (10 Century AD) whereas strong archaeological and other evidence point to the fact Tamils lived here from pre Buddhistic times and the Sinhala Language came into being almost 9 Centuries after the introduction of Buddhism to Ceylon. That is why we say “Genocide” is being practiced. A scion of a powerful Sinhalese family sometime ago is credited to have stated to some friends with glee as follows – 

“I have done a three in one! I got these Tamils in the Vanni area to dispose of their hereditary lands to us to find money to pay for the transportation of them to Australia. Now they have lost their lands and money and the Australian Government has caught them and jailed them. They have lost their properties, money and their freedom”. How far this is true I do not know. But we are told many families who disposed of their lands and paid high prices to travel to Australia illegally were helped by elements close at that time to then governmental sources. These families are facing extradition from Australia. But if they came back they would have no lands nor money here in Sri Lanka. They would carry the stigma of illegal emigrants from here transported forcibly back.

Let me come to your question now. Even though everything looks helpless and gloomy from the Tamilian point of view there are streaks of sunshine emerging from the perspective of reconciliation. The economy of the Sri Lankan government is in dire straits. Spending 20% of the Budget on the Armed Forces for a small Country like ours looks ridiculous. Hitherto the security was directed against attacks by Tamil Militants. Now there seems to be possible Muslim attacks which can be more deadly and unforeseen specially among Sinhala areas. The Government is soon coming to realize they cannot continue to fight a two pronged war against its main minorities.

The need to solve the Tamil ethnic question has now become urgent. Sri Lankan Forces being recalled by UN is the first of the negatives which the Country is now facing. Soon the spectre of war crimes will loom large. Bribery and corruption have reached prohibitive levels. Many other realizations have made the Sinhala Politicians review their modus operandi so far. Could we continue to hurt and hound out the Tamils they ask. What if we make peace with them? After all they are only asking for rights which they lost to us since the British gave self government to us. The British expected fair treatment of the minorities when they gave full control to us. Self government to the Tamils in their areas would make this Country reverse its journey towards becoming a failed Country. 

I therefore expect the so called ethnic problem to be solved soon to enable all communities to travel together in the path of peace and prosperity.   

*Justice C.V. Wigneswaran – Former Chief Minister

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