Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Stifling the Aspirations of the Tamils

by E. Stylo, Morning Leader Online, Colombo, December 27, 2006

The next criticism against the Tamils is that they ask for too much. If that is so I point out to my friends a federal system is the ideal solution. The Tamils will look after themselves within the Sri Lankan polity. To that they are opposed saying the Tamils might separate if federal structures are put in place.

History has shown that federal structures have prevented separation.

I hail from Britain. I am a passing traveller. I have done some studies with regard to the recent history of Sri Lanka. My discipline is law and history. I had occasion to read the speech made by Pirapaharan, the LTTE leader.

With great deference to the Sinhalese people, many of whom I have found to be excellent hosts and good natured people, I feel Pirapaharan has spoken the truth with regard to the successive governments that governed this country since the 1920s (until 1948, of course, under the overlordship of my country — Britain).

Yoeman service

The brothers Sir P.Ramanathan and Sir P.Arunachalam during their time did yeoman service for the cause of creating a united, composite, integrated nation. They were told that northern and eastern parts of this country were admittedly occupied by majority Tamil-speaking people and that their supremacy in those regions would always be protected.

They were also told that adequate representation for the Tamils in the Western Province would also be ensured. But when the representative for Colombo was to be elected, having given the assurance that a Tamil would be elected to the said seat, a Sinhalese candidate was put forward.

Naturally Sir Arunachalam felt cheated and humiliated. On his assurance the Jaffna Association had joined the mainstream Ceylon National Congress to put forward a common, united scheme of recommendations to the British to obtain self rule. Having obtained certain benefits from the British through the good grace of the Tamil leaders, the Sinhalese leaders back-stabbed them. Thereafter it was a continuous stream of laws and activities which were more or less calculated to deprive the equal status that the Tamils enjoyed under the British.

That the British wished to divide and rule the Sinhalese and Tamils in Ceylon was a canard. The Tamils had done well in all activities having had the benefit of excellent schools in the peninsula. They were hard-working, thrifty and industrious. But it was made out that the Tamils received special attention from the British. The British had no reason to divide and rule Ceylon since your country never had a freedom movement akin to India. Comparatively your citizens were very docile and selfish. The British never felt threatened in this country. All they were interested in was meritocracy which would in turn ensure economic prosperity for them.

Republican Constitution

  • The Pan-Sinhalese cabinet of 1934,
  • the calculated colonisation schemes at Gal Oya, Trincomalee District and elsewhere to seat southern Sinhalese in areas where Tamils and Muslims predominated without giving the three communities at least equal opportunities,
  • the refusal to accommodate ‘fifty - fifty’ by which the majority community would not have been able to pass discriminatory laws in the face of a united minority get-together,
  • the passing of Sinhala Only Act despite Article 29 of the 1948 constitution (which was held to be ultra vires the constitution by a judge called de Kretser but nevertheless continued in practice by the state,
  • the refusal to accommodate an Article similar to Article 29 in the new Republican Constitution of 1972,
  • the deleting of provisions when preparing the Republican constitution which enabled courts to hold any law ultra vires the constitution,
  • the refusal to accommodate a federal form of government when enacting two new constitutions to devolve powers to the northern and eastern provinces,
  • making out deliberately that federalism was separation when in-fact federalism was an effective alternative to separation,
  • continuous harassment of the Tamils through pogroms and riots such as in 1958 and 1983,
  • standardisation which prevented very capable Tamil students from the north as well as from Colombo entering university,
  • non recruitment of Tamils into the military services giving the impression Tamils were unwanted in the administration of the country,
  • foisting of favours on the Muslims and others when they were prepared to play ball with the powers that be,
  • total Sinhalisation of the public service,
  • in recent times the evolution of a judiciary insensitive to the aspirations of the Tamils,
  • the impending referendum in the Eastern Province having demerged the north and east and systematically changed the demographic content of the Eastern Province by state colonisation and other means to ensure the uncoupling of the Tamil speaking areas for ever and to divide and rule the north and east,
  • the undue prominence given to renegades among the ranks of the LTTE,
  • making use of them to destroy the struggle of the Tamils for self government by killing prominent Tamil politicians,
  • deliberate inaction in the investigation of crimes against Tamil citizens,
  • destroying of Tamil and Sinhalese media personnel seeking to bring out the truth with regard to the happenings in this country,
  • continuous mouthing of words like maximum devolution of powers and decentralisation but in effect not granting any powers whatsoever to the Tamils (they having to make complaints to the police in the Northern Province in the Sinhala language even now),
  • the continuous stationing of an occupation army in the Tamil speaking areas,
  • deliberately drawing a mythical line between the Tamils and their military arm (the LTTE) to paint all who agitate for rights and probably self-determination as traitors and terrorists,
  • forgetting the militaristic reactions of the Tamils which stem from the atrocities committed by the state through its military,
  • law enforcement authorities and para-military forces,
  • using the phantom of terrorism among the international community to camouflage the actual state of affairs in Sri Lanka which is the refusal of the majority community to recognise the lawful agitation by the minority Tamils for over half a century to obtain redress; these are but a few of the ‘atrocities’ committed by successive governments on the Tamil people.

Criminalisation of the freedom struggle of the Tamils as terrorism is the modus operandi of the powers that be in this country to prevent any rights being given to the Tamils. Pirapaharan is quite rightly convinced as follows ‘it is now crystal clear that the Sinhala leaders will never put forward a just solution to the Tamil national question. Therefore we are not prepared to place our trust in the impossible and walk along the same old futile path.’

Committed atrocities

When spoken to, my Sinhalese friends point out the following ‘atrocities’ of the Tamils — the Tamils received a special position under the British and when that position was endangered they started quarreling unreasonably.

This is not true. The Tamils were good workers, professionals, administrators and so on. If you check on the better officers in any field today in Sri Lanka still it happens to be the Tamils and now Muslims. The Sinhalese are lotus eaters. Go into any department and you will see that. If the Tamils’ position in the south was unacceptable to the Sinhalese after independence, it was incumbent on the part of the Sinhala leaders to grant autonomy to the Northern and Eastern Provinces where the Tamils and Muslims were majority.

Instead deliberate steps were taken to change the demographic pattern in the east. Thereafter the canard that north and east were always Sinhala Buddhist has been put forward especially by the Buddhist priests. My understanding of Sri Lankan history shows that the Dravidians were the original inhabitants of this country. Their religion was Hinduism. The Sinhala language is over 40 percent Tamil in content and the rest of it has been borrowed from Pali, Portuguese, Dutch and other languages.

If Buddhist names have been found in the north and east it must have been the relics of the time when large sections of Tamils in the north and east were Buddhists. They reverted to Hinduism like in India. That does not mean that Tamils and Hindus did not occupy this country from pre-historic times.

True there was successive influx of Tamils from South India at different times. But many such Tamils have now got integrated into and become Sinhalese too. The Sinhalese people as well as their language owe a lot to the Tamils and their language.

Pirapaharan was correct again in referring to the Mahawamsa mentality. Mahawamsa is not a historical document. It was written long time after the incidents mentioned therein took place, with certain ulterior religious motives. There is no historical evidence to show that Vijaya and his 700 lieutenants came from India en block at the time mentioned in the Mahawamsa.

Ideal solution

The next criticism against the Tamils is that they ask for too much. If that is so I point out to my friends a federal system is the ideal solution. The Tamils will look after themselves within the Sri Lankan polity. To that they are opposed saying the Tamils might separate if federal structures are put in place.

History has shown that federal structures have prevented separation. The type of inhuman activities presently carried out by the Colombo government would force the international community in time to come to lend support to the cause of separation. Secession has to follow genocide. If self determination is not put in place to a unit which has a distinct area, language, religions, culture, climate and so on but subjected to extreme hardship and harassment, International Law would deem it necessary to accept secession as the only way out, though it would conflict with the idea of recognising democratically elected governments.

In Sri Lanka the democratically elected representatives from the north and east have almost unanimously asked for self determination though the government is trying its best to convert the Muslims to oppose self determination for the north and east, wanting in the long run to make this country Sinhala Buddhist.

Legitimate rights denied

First the legitimate rights and aspirations of the Tamils were denied soon after independence. When the Tamils protested their political leaders were subjected to innumerable harassment, hardship and indignities. When the youngsters decided after their leader Chelvanayagam who said in 1976 that there was no alternative to separation in the light of successive Sinhala prevarications and cheating, to take up to arms now the strain is terrorism.

All in all the Sinhala leadership, it is apparent, is not interested in solving the problems of the Tamils. They would prefer to have a scorched desert in the north and east rather than give any rights to the minorities in those areas.

Muslims now seem to have realised the ulterior motives of the rulers of this country to dominate and keep under control the several minorities — religious, ethnic and linguistic. There is so much difference between India and Sri Lanka.The former has a Muslim as president, a Sikh as prime minister and an Italian as leader of the dominant political party in India.

In Sri Lanka even for a non Govigama, non Buddhist Sinhalese to become prime minister would be opposed by the Buddhist clergy. The clergy seem to expect special treatment in Sri Lanka wanting to follow the traditions followed by ancient kings. What they forget is that their background and knowledge are anachronistic to the modern world. Sri Lanka cannot be insular any more. No Sinhala leader had been capable enough to tell this to the Buddhist clergy.

Terrorising the Tamils

The third criticism levelled at the Tamils is that they have resorted to so many atrocious terrorist activities killing so many innocents. Surely any objective observer taking the trouble to study your history would tell you that it was the Sinhala polity that started terrorising the Tamils and others.

You started with Pan Sinhalese cabinet in 1934 after hailing Sir Ramanathan for fighting the cause of the Sinhalese before Queen Victoria in 1915, then came colonisation schemes which did not recognise the Tamils and Muslims in their pre-dominant habitat, then came Sinhala only and 1958 riots, then came 1974 Tamil Conference’ deaths in Jaffna then burning of the Jaffna Library, then 1983 riots, the PTA had come into effect in 1979, then the continuous occupation of the north and east by the Sri Lankan military forces, their atrocities — the list is long.

Tragic incidents

The Sinhalese, most of them are unaware of what had been taking place in the northeast, the perpetration of tragic incidents the responsibility for which can be placed at the doorstep of successive Sri Lankan governments. Only when something takes place in Colombo the Sinhalese shout loudly about terrorist activities. The carpet bombings, including on St. James Church and other religious places of worship, the killing of Tamil politicians which are hardly investigated into, the Bindunuwewa calamity for which none had been found guilty, the killing of so many youths in the past as well as in the present mainly by the military and many a time by paramilitary forces employed by the military or the governmental authorities are also terrorist activities.

There cannot be different standards for violence. Violence is violence. The reason why the state uses violence in Sri Lanka is because it does not want to give up the power it had somehow grabbed for the Sinhala community under the British. The Tamils could have asked for separation like Mohamed Ali Jinnah if they wished to in 1948. But they were lulled into believing the Sinhala polity would be reasonable.

In fact, the Bandaranaike - Chelvanayagam Pact appeared reasonable at that time. But it was opposed by Buddhist priests and others. It is ironical that followers of the Great Buddha who gave up material possessions for a life of religion and love should hold on to power, position, and parochial considerations preventing a humane solution to the Sri Lankan calamity.

To place criticism at a rebel organisation having given birth to it by your own inconsiderate actions and activities would be to beg the question.This country needs a strong humane statesman politician to pull the chestnuts out of the fire. I see none.

I am an outsider .This is a beautiful country. If you Sinhalese and Tamils and Muslims cannot resolve your differences pronto I foresee foreign influences taking you on a path of no return. It is the Sinhalese who should wake up. You are living on the top of a powder keg.

The Sinhalese people, please forgive me if I have been too hard on you. But you must wake up to reality. Otherwise, you will wonder what hit you. Then it would be too late. I shall leave soon. But I shall keep in touch. If any of you care to respond to my letter, I shall most certainly reply. I am fairly sure of my knowledge of Sri Lankan history.

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