Studying Sinhala by Tamils

An ill-timed and inappropriate plea by Wigneswaran.

by Eelaventhan Manickavasakar, June 12, 2016

Northern Provincial Chief Minister Justice C. V. Wigneswaran in a recent speech has exhorted the Tamil students to study Sinhalese.  The reasons he mentioned were

  1. Lack of knowledge in Sinhalese is the root cause of misunderstanding, suspicion, mistrust and lack of confidence.
  2. If you know Sinhalese, you can effectively reply a Sinhalese, more particularly Sinhalese politicians.
  3. Tamils in Norway and France are learning Norwegian and French language
  4. All Sinhalese students are compulsorily learning Tamil
  5. Learn Sinhalese keeping politics away out
  6. To ensure proper understanding, Sinhala knowledge is essential
  7. Those who don’t possess knowledge in Sinhala will face discrimination in future and Tamil speaking Sinhalese official will benefit Tamils.

The above reasons sound plausible, but only partially true, and politically unacceptable.

Firstly, the root cause of all problems originated when Sinhala language was taken up and exploited as a political weapon to launch the discrimination and marginalisation of Tamils in all public sectors, not to mention the ugly riots and mayhems unleashed against the innocent Tamils while jailing Tamil political leaders.  In Sri Lanka, language and politics are intertwined and inseparable. The 1956 Sinhala only language act is the root and trunk of all present and past problems of Sri Lanka. As such there is justifiable reason for the Tamils to oppose the thrusting of Sinhalese language like the political opposition for thrusting Hindi in Tamil Nadu and other states by the ruling state governments.

The cause of mistrust, suspicion etc is not due to lack of knowledge of Sinhala language, but due mistrust and suspicion of Sinhalese of all Tamils and Tamil Nadu with fears of separation.  This is very much embedded in the psyche of Sinhalese and extremist politicians, by  speaking and easily communicating with Sinhalese may be good enough to explain but not enough to change the minds of Sinhala politicians whose power base is communal politics.

To justify studying Sinhalese with Tamils living in France and Norway studying Norwegian and French is not a comparable proposition. Tamils in those and other countries fled Sri Lanka fearing their lives and were accepted as refugees. Out of necessity for their daily livelihood, they are left with no other alternative but to learn the language of the country to qualify for citizenship and other state entitlements. On the contrary, Sri Lanka is home to two historical inhabitants, Tamil and Sinhalese. The Sinhalese being the majority has enacted several legislations marginalizing and discriminating the Tamils and compelling them to study Sinhalese to qualify for promotion and increments. The Privy Council upheld this as an act of discrimination in the Kodeeswaran’s case. It is to be noted that Tamils are still receiving official communications in Sinhalese, though Tamil is also for name sake recognised as an official language.  The government will find it convenient and easier to fully implement the ‘Sinhala only’ provision

including communications once the Tamil have acquired sufficient knowledge in Sinhalese. To understand them the agenda of Buddhisisation and Sinhalisation by Sri-Lankan governments is simple history from 1948, and this is continuing subtly and unabatingly without ant hindrance.  This process will quicken and be made easier when Tamil speaking Sinhala state official are occupying the administrative chairs in the north and east which the chief minister says will definitely help the Tamils, without realizing the “Mahavamsa mindset” operation as is now seen in the appointment of Mr.Cooray, a gentleman governor who is advocating interracial marriages to activate the process of Tamils assimilations and gradual extinction. It is well known fact that all Sri Lankan governments have been discriminating the Tamils in state employments, including security services.

There is no denying of the fact that enriching oneself with knowledge of one or more languages opens the door for wider communications and deeper and closer understanding.  There is no harm in Tamil students and Sinhalese students studying each other’s language, but in the case of Tamils, in Sri Lanka this will be a double edged weapon for the government enabling it to use it both ways. But surely this will only serve the Sinhala politicians to accelerate the process of cultural genocide.

To study Sinhalese, to effectively reply or talk to a Sinhalese or Sinhalese politician does not sound as a justifiable reason to learn Sinhalese.  As Sinhalese politician and polity always promises without execution of same without actions.  The change of heart can only come when the southern politicians unitedly and unanimously reach the Sinhalese people at all levels and all places and launch campaigns explaining in Sinhalese the grievances of Tamils, the injustices and the need to solve them.  As long as language and religion remain as political trump cards, in the south, the mistrust, suspicion, misunderstanding and lack of confidence will remain intact and un eradicated.  Studying Sinhalese will hardly solve the various nagging problems of Tamils like, equal rights in employment, implementation of official language, state appointments, resettlements, accountability, repatriation, infrastructure, Sinhala colonisations, Buddhisisation and militarization. On the contrary, this will serve as the icing of a cake and as a useful tool for Sinhalisation.

Chief Minister Wigneswaran is now looked upon and stands out as a clean and bold politician fighting for the causes of the Tamils.  He has generated the backing of Tamils and with his hands full as chief minister, as a promoter of Tamil people’s council while belonging to TNA, it is preferable for him to give priority to the problems which are piling up, day by day, including political issues and not to stir up controversial matters like studying Sinhala which is surely worthy of consideration at this juncture. Once the issues of justice, accountability and reconciliation, are solved to allow a climate of peace and goodwill to prevail in the entire country.

Wigneswaran’s right reply to the call of governor Cooray advocating interracial marriage that ‘this matter deserves attention only after all our issues are solved’. This also fits in as another right reply to this call of studying Sinhalese.

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