One Island, Two Nations

by Kumarathasan Rasingam, July 9, 2021

Sri Lanka formerly known as CEYLON is an island country in South Asia.  Sri Lanka was historically comprised of two distinctive nations; the country’s history has been written or represented as if it were one nation. However, the two nations, namely Sinhalese and Tamils, have existed in Sri Lanka continuously from historic times, each with its own distinctive religious, linguistic, cultural, social, economical and political values. Both Sinhalese and Tamils ruled in Sri Lanka from the historic period, each established their separate kingdoms based on their traditional homelands. Dr. K. Indrapala, formerly Professor of History at the University of Jaffna, in his book “Tamils in Sri Lanka: Evolution of an Ethnic Identity” has revealed this historical truth without prejudice.

The Athenaeum published a research drive in 1832 into ancient sciences, literature, fine arts, customs and city governance of the Pancha Ishwarams. The scholar and historian, Dr. Paul E. Pieris declared in 1917, at a meeting of the Royal Asiatic Society [Ceylon]Branch  that:-  ‘Long before the arrival of Vijaya there was in Lanka five recognised ishwarams of Shiva which claimed and received adoration of all of India:

  1. NAGULESWARAM      in the north in Jaffna District
  2. KETHEESWARAM      in the northwest in Mannar District
  3. KONESWARAM           in the northeast in Trincomalee District
  4. MUNNESWARAM       in the west in Puttalam District
  5. TONDESWARAM        in the south in Matara District’

Tamils were a well established race in ancient Eelam, at least by 300 B.C.  Tamils had a continuous presence in the Island from ancient times. They eventually had their own Kingdom, Jaffna Kingdom.

Tamils were the early inhabitants of Eelam. Mahavamsa is a myth. De Silva expresses the same sentiments when he states, “The Mahavamsa and its continuation Culavamsa were the work of Bhikku and, naturally enough were permeated by a strong religious bias, and encrusted with miracle and invention. The central theme was the historic role of the Island as a bulwark of Buddhist civilization, and in a deliberate attempt to underline this, it contrives to synchronise the advent of Vijaya with the parinirvana of Buddha.”

There is evidence from archaeological investigations conducted at Pomparippu in the North West of the Island in 1956 and 1957 of a culture which bears some resemblance to the South Indian Megalithic culture; the similarities are most noticeable in the Adichanallur site across the water in South India. Therefore there is strong archaeological evidence for the presence of Tamils in Eelam in 300 B.C in the North West of the Island.

Cleghorn, a government servant in the British Government Mission [1796] points out that a Tamil homeland existed in the Northern and Eastern regions of the Island at the beginning of the British rule. According to him:-
“Two different nations from the very ancient period have divided between them the possessions of the land.  First, the Sinhalese inhabiting the interior of the country, its southern and western parts, from the river Wallawa to Chilaw, and secondly, the Malabars [Tamils] who possess the northern and eastern district.  The two nations differ entirely in their religion, language and manners.”

The Sri Lankan Tamils possess their own language, religion, culture and traditional homeland, and a glorious past which should enable them to establish a strong national identity.

It is apt to mention a quote by the political scholar Professor James G. Kella’s statement in a discussion on nationalism.
“A nation is a group of people who feel themselves to be a community bound together by ties of History, Culture, and Common Ancestry.  Nation has objective characteristics, which may include a territory, a language, a religion, a common descent [though not all of these are always present] and subjective characteristics, essentially a people’s awareness of its nationality and affection for it. In the last resort it is the ‘supreme loyalty’ for people to die for their nation.”

The ‘SUPREME LOYALTY’ of the people, especially the ultimate loyalty of the Tamil youths who are prepared to die for their nation after the state-sponsored pogroms against them in 1956, 1958, 1971, 1977, 1983 and the burning of the Jaffna Public Library.

The Sinhalese majority government and Sinhalese political leaders should consider the Tamils’ demand for the right to self-determination with sincerity, humanity and political foresight and should act at the earliest to recognize it.

In conclusion, it is to be noted that John Dowd, the emeritus Australian Judge and the former President of the International Commission of Jurists said the following on the occasion of the launch of the book, The International Dimension in Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Conflict:

“The International Community should recognize that Sri Lanka needs two states and that structures should be created to facilitate coexistence of the two states.”

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