Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Comments on Mr. H. L. de Silva’s Lalith Athulathmudali Oration

by Kanaga Suntharam

Equally, when it comes to the grave injustices committed against the Tamil people and prevailing inequities, he shows unmistakably a studied ignorance and callous insensibility. Like an evangelical highbinder preaching to the converted, his oration was aimed at the amen corner; thus its function is "inspirational." No use for facts, ‘truth’ is what the believers are already committed to.

When the Sinhala people wake up to the truth, that they have wronged the Tamils for more than fifty years, that they have inflicted enormous pain and suffering on them, that they have put the developmental clock back by two generations, they will realize that they alone are responsible for the unfolding of the events as they have.


Recently, there was an event in Colombo, grandly described as the "Lalith Athulathmudah Oration delivered by H.L. de Silva at the BMICH." Among the Sinhala intelligentsia this is as exalted as it gets. Mr. de Silva is considered the godfather of the JVP’s and related ideology and is a prominent legal figure in the state of Sri Lanka. The language of the speech is a curious mix of legalese and bellicose Sinhala majoritarianism; the legalese is a thin veneer for what for all purposes is a brief for JVPism. For those Sinhala intellectuals who lapped up the swill at the BMICH, it was manna straight from God. But to the Tamils Athulathmudali is the equivalent of Hitler for the Jews and, hence, any memorial to him is deeply resented.

Infuriatingly for the fairminded and especially for the Eelam Tamils, in Mr de Silva’s peroration there is no mention of the many periodic pogroms when the Sinhala-patriot followers of the Buddha eviscerated unarmed women, children and the infirm and other Tamils with the connivance of the elected leaders of Mr. de Silva’s much vaunted democracy; the forcible eviction of Tamils and colonization of their ancestral land in Tamil areas by the Sinhalese in the name of Sinhala democracy; the destruction of Tamil homes, schools, temples, churches and devastation of Tamil areas and, in the process, the killing of more than 60,000 Tamils of all ages; eviction of Tamils from their homes for what are arbitrarily defined HSZs by the Sinhala army and a gestapo-style occupation by Sinhala soldiers; the more than fifty years of repressive legislation aimed at the Tamils, one after another, by the permanent Sinhala majority in the "democratic" legislature; the perennial abuse of the Tamils with the ever-present threat of another slaughter hanging like the sword of Damocles; the disappearances of Tamils in the custody of Mr. de Silva’s wonderful democratic government; the slaughter of Tamil children held captive by the Sri Lankan government, ostensibly for "rehabilitation," by the ever-compassionate Sinhala mob with the connivance of the Sinhala police, the keepers of law and order; the pointed exclusion of Tamil areas from any and all economic developments; the deprivation of Tamil children in the matter of nutrition and educational facilities; rapes, arrests, unprovoked assaults, invasion and searches of homes, and corralling of Tamils in their own areas; the deliberate, calculated and far-reaching "Sinhala-only" legislation overtly professed to replace the Tamils with Sinhalese in the great democratic government’s bureaucracy; and numerous other crimes committed daily by the armed forces, bhikkus, bureaucrats and sundry criminals in the employ of the government; the murders committed daily of Tamil civilians by paramilitary armed, supported and directed by the government; and so on.

The attribution of "discrimination" of the Tamils by the Sinhalese, though it is pervasive, sounds so innocuous inadequate and platitudinous to describe the enormity and enormousness of what the Sinhalese have heaped upon the Tamils on a continuous basis for the past fifty years and more.

For Mr. de Silva to prescind these vital and causative facts and try to build an edifice of arguments - which, as pointed out above are majoritarian legalisms - is verily to erect a structure absent its foundation and it collapses, however well done the interconnection of its members may be. In his case, moreover, the superstructure is also faulty and full of holes.

There exists in the polity of the island, in the matter of democracy, a very fundamentally debilitating and intractable structural problem: it is that the organization of governance including the very constitution itself, is permanently ethnically biased in favor of the Sinhalese, giving to the Tamils no hope for equity in the legislative and constitutional processes.

Once Mr. de Silva avows these facts or even if he acknowledges them explicitly or tacitly, he cannot proceed with his arguments; period. The Sinhalese stand condemned, the veneer of democracy of Sri Lanka regimes wiped off, the JVP stands starkly in all its nakedness as fascists and the bhikkus are seen but insane Ayatollas with exposed armpits. So Mr. de Silva, instead, goes on to commit blatant intellectual dishonesty and suppresses with nary a qualm or compunction every iniquity and agony piled upon the Tamils. Any society that does not rise up in arms against such serial tyrannical regimes is not worth its name and would be consigned to oblivion. And could it be exactly this that Mr. de Silva wishes for the Tamils of Eelam?

It would seem at this stage to be an academic exercise to go into his arguments - because the whole rationale lies in ruins; yet it would be useful to refute some of his pronouncements which is like clearing the debris - the remains of the collapsed edifice.

Early on in Mr. de Silva's speech (oration, peroration!) he makes a snide remark about the "dexterous disguise" and "disarming mistranslation" of Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchchi as the Federal Party by the Tamil politicians, thus hinting at some sinister machination as if a name is going to accomplish a plot. Firstly, Tamils are not obligated to apologize or explain or even explain away the perceived discrepancy in the two versions. However, I shall show Mr. de Silva his instinctive mistrust of the Tamils is totally unwarranted.

The English word "federal" has no direct equivalent word in Tamil in the political sense because the concept itself is of rather recent provenance. Alternatively, one cannot name a political party by a long definition. Hence, the Tamil leaders had to find a word that approximated to the functions and intended purposes of a federal form of government. The Tamil word "arasu" means, among others, "government,""rule or kingdom." Therefore, the word can be conjoined to other words appropriately to denote municipal, regional, federal, confederal, etc. but as for ‘federal’, the equivalents to those words are absent in the classical Tamil vocabulary. Thus the importance of the words "Ilankai Thamil." Observe that instead of Eelam the word Ilankai (Lanka) is retained, demolishing Mr. de Silva’s conspiracy theory. Now the word "Thamil." Even Mr. de Silva would not think the Tamils should have named their party Sinhala Arasu Katchchi! That is the very incubus the Tamils were despairingly exasperated about. (If Mr. de Silva had a sense of humor he could suggest Thamil "Appe Aanduwa"). So, Mr. de Silva, all this conspiratorial deviousness you attribute to the Tamils inheres in you. How shocking!

In his rejection of a federal form of government for the island, Mr. de Silva adduces as the reason the lack "of a sense of mutual trust and fidelity between the diverse groups -------". First, this mutual trust, etc. can only be engendered if the political leadership pro-actively created and sustained the conditions for such mutual trust. But the unpleasant reality in this blighted island is one of politics of hate practiced by the Sinhala politicians uninterruptedly for nearly fifty years. The Sinhalese are not just playing a "zero-sum" game. They are playing to hurt the Tamils even if no tangible benefit accrues to them. Hurting the Tamils is the prize and the trophy!

Secondly, the mutual trust Mr. de Silva rightly posits as the prerequisite for the viability of a federal structure applies to every democratic form of government and applies, a fortiori, for a unitary form of government in a multi-ethnic society. Therefore, if one follows Mr. de Silva’s reasoning against a federal set up, then one is inevitably driven to the conclusion that secession is in the interest of both parties to the conflict. I agree.

Commenting on the administrative procedure used to effect the amalgamation of the so called eastern and northern parts (of Tamil Eelam) by Jayawardene, Mr. de Silva finds it ultra vires the Public Security Act. That is of no consequence to the Tamils for we hold the entire constitution null and void - nay, illegal.

Mr. de Silva also says with thinly disguised glee that the intended devolution of powers to the Provincial councils did not in the end, work. Surprise Surprise! Was anything intended to alleviate the hardships of the Tamils ever allowed to work? Does anything good work in the island? Bad faith towards Tamils is the operating principle of politics among the majoritarian Sinhala South. On this matter Mr. de Silva approvingly mentions the strong objection raised by Athulathmudali to the "artificial recognition of spatial divisions" meaning east/north Tamil homeland as an ethnically distinct entity from the Sinhala areas of the island, but almost in the same breath stresses the legal sanctity of the artificial spatial division of north and east parts of Tamil homeland. One of his concerns is the presence of what he says a one third Sinhalese in the Eastern Tamil homeland. With Freudian oblivion he does not mention that the vast majority of these Sinhalese were brought in by the Sinhala government and planted in Tamil areas by depriving and forcibly displacing the Tamils from their inviolable heritage so that persons like Athulathmuthali and de Silva can claim what they do now. That is pure and loathsome ethnic treachery! South Africa’s whites of Apartheit infamy created Bantustans to grab land and to disperse blacks, the Sinhalese politicians created Sinhala enclaves to appropriate land from the Tamils, to make them destitute and marginalize them politically and economically permanently.

What is shocking in retrospect is that, as the Sinhala politicians were assiduously working on this diabolical strategy continuously since independence, as if the plan was handed over from one Sinhala party to the other, the Tamil leaders were naively trusting of the Sinhala politicians and totally remiss in their duty.

Like a kidnapper who is suspicious of every move by the victim, Mr. de Silva too, along with the Sinhala governments , is paranoiac of every democratic political move by the Tamils. In his mind, any other democratic political arrangement will lead to secession. He is probably convinced that the current dictatorship of the permanent Sinhala ethnic majority is the only way to carry out far reaching programs to drive out the Tamils.

Mr. de Silva’s jaundiced view is, therefore, any other form of government than the ones totally and tightly controlled by the Sinhala is detrimental to the Sinhala. Thus, he pronounces his aversion to a federal system in these terms:

1. If a federal form of government is meant to protect differing interests arising from differing ethnicity, then the new federal state itself has to divide further according to ethnicity, ad infinitum!

Not so, Mr. de Silva. The Tamil (speaking) people need a federal state because (a) The Sinhala ran the government for fifty years only for the Sinhala
(b) The Sinhala rammed down the throat of the Tamils the Sinhalese language (within 24 hours!) by making it the only official language
c) The Sinhala governments evicted Tamils from their homes and land and colonized the area totally with Sinhala with government money
(d) Systematically eliminated Tamils from civil service employment and made it difficult for them to earn a living even in the private sector
(e) Drastically curtailed their educational advancement through government measures
(f) When the Tamils remonstrated, they were set upon by government inspired Sinhala thugs
(g) The imposition of Buddhism as the favored religion, intrusively locating Buddhist temples on public land in Tamil areas, thus staking a claim for Sinhala/Buddhists.

The federal state that the Tamil speaking people demand naturally will have no linguistic conflict, nor any of the above mentioned invidious discriminatory features. Besides, Tamils are not Sinhalese! We have the wisdom to adapt our policies and practices as we make our transition from survival struggle mode to consolidation to peace time administration.

The real reasons for Mr. de Silva's objections to federalism are, of course, that the predatory Sinhala government cannot with impunity act in the manner they have done thus far as recounted above. The long-range scheme to take over Tamils land, destroy their economy and culture and liquidate them to a non-entity cannot be perpetrated. His most revealing objection is envisaged in the following scenario. To quote:

An unfortunate sequel, as far as the remainder state is concerned in the event of a successful secession, is that the de facto seceding entity will be considered to have its internal boundaries (which it had as a territorial unit in the earlier federation), as its international boundaries in its new status as an independent state.

How unfortunate for the predators that their "hunting ground" may be closed! No more slaughters, no more rapes, no more HSZs, no more displacement of people, no more corralling, no more economic embargo and most importantly the Tamils get to keep their ancestral land! To Mr. de Silva this is unjust and illegal! He goes on to state that in the case of a secession from a unitary state as opposed to from a federal state, the boundaries will be different, meaning of course, the Sinhala will keep much of Tamil people's land in a unitary state.

It is, therefore, crystal clear that all the sophistry of Mr. de Silva, all the convoluted legalese, all the equivocation, all the evocation of seeming "international" legal principles - and even morality! - has just one aim; grasping our sacred ancestral, inalienable land all for the Sinhala. Since the Tamils cannot occupy the same space that the Sinhala scheme to do, the Tamils will soon have to be liquidated. We thought that the Sinhala sought imperial hegemony only!

Mr. de Silva admonishes the Sinhala that there are moral restraints to, believe it or not, peace (that is peace with Tamils could be immoral!) and that they should not be deluded by the phonetic resemblance between "peace" and "appeasement." As the Sinhala have been the aggressor all along and remain more powerful and more numerous, and Tamils at the receiving end and risk losing everything worth living for, it is the Tamils who have to be wary of ending up as appeasers.

Mr. de Silva suggests the problem as the solution - the oppressive unitary state! Is the fifty years’ of decadent misrule, murderous and tyrannical, against which the Tamils cry in desperation "we cannot stand it any longer" Mr. de Silva’s nostrum, that will be the gold standard of "fairness, justice and equity"? I wish he would not attribute these lofty sentiments to a state which is on record as one of the worst violators of human rights, unless he intends them to be ironical. Unitary State? - Do not even think of it! One of his incredibly disingenuous passages reveals his devilish tactics. Here, invoking the international community, the perpetual aggressor plays the victim! "-------- our future as a State would seem very much to depend how the international community would respond to the predicament of a State that has made

Every reasonable effort to adopt democratic forms of government

Made genuine efforts negotiate a settlement that is fair and just to all concerned

Sought substantially to abide by international norms in the matter of human rights and yet has had to suffer subjugation ------- and loss of its territory against a ruthless enemy which does not conform to any of these norms."

If anything, this passage describes accurately the very antithesis of what the Sri Lankan state is and what it has been doing. Contrarily, it applies far more appropriately to what the Tamil nation is and is striving against all odds to do. No Tamil could have put it any better about the Sinhala government.

Whether in the event of a UDI the Eelam State would acquire international legitimacy and thus admission to the membership of the UN is a decisive consideration. It has to be pointed out, however, that the UN does not create states, but admits to membership states, which are, by some means or other, already in existence. Therefore, it is incumbent upon Eelam people to secure a viable entity so that a future membership of the UN can be achieved.

Mr. de Silva resorts to an ex parte interpretation of international law and states seven "reasons" why the Eelam Tamils’ claim for the right to secession is not valid. Before going into his reasons, it is to be pointed out that he does not mention in his "peroration," even once, that the Tamils and Sinhalese had separate kingdoms until the British treacherously "dissolved" (as in motion pictures) our status as a separate national entity, though culturally and in consciousness we remained two distinct nations. The omission of this fact vitiates and undermines all his supposed reasons. Now for his ‘reasons’:

1. "Having regard to -------- the relevant historical and sociological facts Sri Lankan Tamils do not fall within the category of people subject to alien subjugation domination and exploitation or whose fundamental rights have been denied them."

And in fact live in a State "possessed of a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory without discrimination as to race, creed or color."

This man has his head truly buried in the sand of Sinhala callousness, or in a state of denial like the proverbial monkeys (hear no evil, see no evil), suffering from amnesia or has a condition where he cannot speak the truth.

Does he assume that the Sinhalese by sharing the island of Sri Lanka are not "alien" vis a vis the Tamils and, therefore, "subjugation domination and exploitation or whose fundamental rights have been denied to them" and much worse which are daily facts of life for more than fifty years, are permissible and not reasons for secession?

And the second part that the Tamils live in a state "possessed ------- without discrimination as to race, creed or color" is pure fiction and is not even worth commenting upon.

One might begin to question his sanity except for the fact that a substantial section of Sinhala population thinks like Mr. de Silva. This is the most frightening situation, for the implications are that these people believe that everything that is done to the Tamils is just and that nothing that the Sinhala did or will do vis a vis the Tamils could be judged wrong! "Sinhala can do no wrong."

2. "Whether in the exercise of the right of self-determination there were adequate alternative modes of achieving self-determination in the internal sphere, which the claimant entity has unreasonably chosen to reject--------"

Here again Mr. de Silva talks as if he was born yesterday and/or totally ignorant of the history of the years of democratic struggles of the Tamil people, the chicanery and the total untrustworthiness of the successive Sinhala leaders, the Tamils’ earnest search for "alternative modes of achieving self-determination" and time and again having been frustrated by the perfidy of the Sinhala leaders and the hateful obduracy of a large section of the Sinhala.

3. "Whether there is unreasonable denial of opportunities for economic development -----; or a denial of opportunities and avenues of gainful employment, educational facilities -------- of any group".

The response to this is an unequivocal "yes" to all the above.

4. "The conduct and methods employed by the insurgent and militant groups in their campaign against the State which disclose massive violation of human rights, genocide and ethnic cleansing, terrorism, and crimes against humanity, would be a relevant consideration at the present time".

Quite so, just interchange "insurgents and militant group" and "state" and it eminently describes the behavior of the State of Sri Lanka towards the Tamils. Here is some simple arithmetic for Mr. de Silva. The Tigers count 18,000 dead among their cadre. The Sinhala governments claimed during their criminal war against the Tamils of a four to one kill ratio. That works out as 4,500 Sinhala soldiers dead so that a total of 22,500 fighters have perished. The oft quoted number of dead in the struggle is 65,000 which leaves 42,500 unarmed civilians who have been killed. Almost all were Tamils, killed by the Sinhalese. Here is deal for you:

If and when the Tamils end up killing 42,500 more Sinhalese you may then describe the LTTE’s record as "horrendous," though even then we would be, at worst, as bad as the Sinhala government. Until then, apply that epithet strictly to your government and the Sinhala ochlocracy [government by the mob; mob rule -- Editor] you find so agreeably unblemished.

5. "International community ---- (is) not likely to view with favor the dismemberment -------- of the territory of a fellow member --------- unless the State has forfeited this right through acts of oppression."

The demand for self-determination is not a capricious, unjustified act. It is the culmination of not just oppression - much worse, periodic slaughter in thousands, in addition to systematic deprivation of means of livelihood. Remember that the Tamil areas were kept under "emergency" rule for the major part of the fifty years or so under Sinhala rule. Would you not consider this oppression, Mr. de Silva?

The "international community" is verily a "political"community. Secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan was brought about by India by force. Eritrea’s secession from Ethiopia was engineered by the USA; so was Kurdistan from Iraq; dismemberment of Yugoslavia was machinated by the E.U. and USA (Croatia’s declaration of total independence from Yugoslavia was promptly recognized by Germany); the USA killed millions of Vietnamese unsuccessfully to keep the North and South separate - and still keeps Korea divided by force; East Timor recently seceded from Indonesian Timor with the support of the West.

Despite the above precedents, if the internation community for its own political reasons or whimsically, frowns upon our legitimate need, we have to do what is in our interest; survival preempts international approval.

6. Mr. de Silva’s sixth point is that, if federal status is granted, then this "fissiparous tendencies" might spread to the Hill country Tamil areas and areas where the Muslims live. If the Sinhalese treat the Hill country Tamils and the Muslims the way they have treated the Eelam Tamils, such a situation is inevitable and amply justified. The way to prevent that happening, obviously, is not to make it intolerable for them to live with the Sinhalese and not to stand in the way of an autonomous Eelam. That would be counter-productive and the depth of unwisdom.

Also Mr. de Silva's contention that "if the right of secession was to be recognized in every distinct nation groups -------- it is estimated at least five thousand groups in the world would theoretically have a right to recognition as separate states." Having the right is one thing; the compulsion to exercise that right is yet another. The very fact that this has not happened disproves his wild claim. When a person states extreme cases to buttress his arguments, then one knows his arguments are shaking in their foundation. Extremists cannot do otherwise.

7. As his seventh objection Mr. de Sliva talks of the "domino effect" - that totally discredited cold war "rhetorical" term which does not even fit the facts he is applying it to. He warns "of the effect of secession on adjacent areas and resultant loss of resources and revenue could well lead to the collapse of the economy with catastrophic consequences for the whole state and may bring about the end of democracy for the whole country. A State of anarchy would prevail ______." What he is apprehending is the loss of a dripping roast, a milch cow, a colony that, like the wasp laying its eggs on a paralyzed spider or caterpillar, which the larvae eat as they grow, the Sinhalese can suck the flesh, blood and life out of. It is nonsensical to speak of democracy, which is not there in the first place, that it will end!

The final point Mr. de Silva makes is the wishful speculation that India would not tolerate western "intrusion" and "the emergence of the new State of Eelam."

The attributions made thus to India by the Sinhala are just self-serving and similar asseverations by Indian politicians are formulaic and meant to be diplomatically correct. If India is thinking of a Kashmir analogy, it is like a man warning a much abused neighbor not to seek a divorce from her husband because his own wife may be tempted to do so. Another supposed justification for India’s objection is that the tail might impossibly wag the dog and Tamil Nadu may attempt to follow Eelam’s example. When India helped to create an independent Bangaladesh out of Pakistan, Bengal did not break away from India. Besides, it is insulting to the sensibilities of Tamil Nadu even to imply such an eventuality.

Despite all the malicious propaganda to the contrary, an autonomous Tamil Eelam will be a boon to India. Tamils of Eelam have remained steadfast in their loyalty to India, unlike the ambitendencies displayed by the Sri Lankan government and the Sinhala people quite often. India is surely aware that the Sinhala government’s professed "great friendship" with India is quite recent and occasional - the occasion being the dire need of the Sri Lankan government of India’s involvement on their side in order to destroy Eelam. But Eelam Tamils’ regard, verging on reverence, for India is part of their heritage, cultural and historical. Though the American government initially opposed the creation of Israel, it finds the latter a valuably strategic ally. Eelam would prove to be even more important as a strategic ally, because of our natural affinity for India and strategic situation. We, unlike Sinhala Sri Lanka, will not deviously play the Pakistan or China card.

In Mr. de Silva’s entire speech almost every word was purposefully chosen and every sentence carefully composed. Equally, when it comes to the grave injustices committed against the Tamil people and prevailing inequities, he shows unmistakably a studied ignorance and callous insensibility. Like an evangelical highbinder preaching to the converted, his oration was aimed at the amen corner; thus its function is "inspirational." No use for facts, ‘truth’ is what the believers are already committed to.

When the Sinhala people wake up to the truth, that they have wronged the Tamils for more than fifty years, that they have inflicted enormous pain and suffering on them, that they have put the developmental clock back by two generations, they will realize that they alone are responsible for the unfolding of the events as they have.

The Sinhalese should not only reconcile themselves to let us go free, they should do so with contrition and proclaim an apology.