Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Judge Weeramantry’s Perspective Misses Reality                

by V Gunaratnam

"A great democracy must either sacrifice self-government to unity or preserve it by federalism. The coexistence of several nations under the same State is a test, as well as the best security of its freedom . . . The combination of different nations in one State is as necessary a condition of civilized life as the combination of men in society.” ~  Lord Acton

“Sri Lanka must be a single sovereign state,” says Judge Weeramantry in his recent book  A call for national awakening about sovereignty in Sri Lanka, overlooking the fact that the Sinhalese, by not working to secure that single, sovereign state, have lost it. But he is right about one thing though; the Sinhalese have to wake up soon to their responsibilities!

For the Tamils sovereignty equals freedom. Freedom is like the air we breathe, it is free! It is a palpitating, life giving thing. No amount of legal or political pontification can take that away from the Tamils.

What is the good Judge talking about then? Whose sovereignty? After all the Sinhalese and the Tamils went together to Whitehall and sued for independence and won it. Had we cried “Foul,” then it would have been goodbye to independence.

For a long time we had this cozy machan relationship with our Sinhalese countrymen, but the wily British knew better and, in their wisdom, made sure good intentions did not turn sour one day, and wrote safeguards into the 1948 Soulbury Constitution handed down to us. But what good did it do for us?

Barely had the ink dried on it, our Sinhalese countryment disenfranchised the upcountry Tamils, people who had toiled for generations to create wealth for the nation. It was the writing on the wall for the Tamils as a people. Then came the Sinhala Only Act in 1956. Had the Sinhalese suddenly discovered that the secret to getting ahead in life was by putting down the Tamils?

With the Sinhala Only Act the Sinhalese embarked on righting ‘historical wrongs,’ the legacy of British rule, so they claimed. Sixty long years have gone by, but what do we have today but an impoverished country, torn apart by racial conflict and war, with more than a quarter of the population mired in poverty. It is as if they are trapped in this vicious, sadistic ritual and have lost their bearings.

The assault on Tamil rights continued and reached its zenith when the Sinhalese tore up the Soulbury Constitution and fabricated their own illegal 1972 Republican Constitution, erasing the minority rights enshrined in it. By that single act, done without the consent of the Tamils, the Sinhalese destroyed the political nexus that had existed with us, the Tamils.

This destruction gave the Tamils the right to determine their own fate, to exist as a distinct people, and nation. Despite this right, we kept on searching peacefully for justice and equality, but were rebuffed. And when JR Jeyawardena created the executive presidency with his 1978 constitution, and sought to subdue the Tamils militarily, they were left with no other alternative but to take up arms to defend themselves. The political process is still not working, because there is something inherently wrong and unfair about it, and the Sinhalese are suffering under a delusion.

Sri Lanka is not a God given gift to one people alone, the Sinhalese. Others, too, have lived on the island for centuries and are entitled to the same rights and privileges enjoyed by them. Just because an ethnic majority has the power to write something on a piece of paper called the constitution, giving them certain privileges and rights, while denying theses priviledges to others, never makes it sacrosanct, ‘constitutional’ or immutable.

The moment of truth for the Tamils came in 1983. To be precise, July 24 1983, when everything changed forever for us. It ignited something that is alight within us to this day, and has sustained us through the death and destruction the Sri Lankan government and its armed forces have heaped on us through twenty years of war.

There is still no end in sight to our struggle, because the Sri Lanka government and its leaders have boxed themselves into an inflexible position, and time is running out. The perils faced by the Tamils have not diminished. War looms. The Sinhalese want to be driven to the brink before making a move. They are fast approaching that point of no return. Let one thing be very clear, however, something that overshadows everything else.

Tamils are not fighting for the coastlines referred to by the good Judge, pieces of this or that, handouts, concessions or anything else, in half measures. We are fighting for our freedom. Another name for it is sovereignty!

It is time the Sinhalese heeded the good Judge’s call seriously and woke up!