Division of Sri Lanka for ethnic-autonomy ruled-out – What then are the ‘genuine concerns of the Tamils’
Leaders of a country must have pluck to categorically say what can and what will not be accommodated under whatever terminology it is dressed in. Thus, Sri Lanka’s leaders must say and all others must be made to understand that Sri Lanka will not be divided to be given ethnic self-autonomy under any form. Having said that, given that many claim that only the Tamils have grievances it is now opportune to list these out instead of simply saying they have grievances which are not being addressed. For too long we have wasted years compromising over unjustifiable demands and propaganda that has made everyone believe that the Sinhalese are to be faulted for all ills. None have yet explained why calls for a Tamil state came during colonial rule & before 1956 Sinhala Only Act which even affected Sinhalese & Burghers while calls to take up arms came well before 1983 riots. It should clearly establish that plenty of lies and propaganda has been at play which is why it is important that we stick to facts and demand proper answers without promoting more lies and propaganda.
To understand that a lot of mischief and a lot of mischief makers have been involved in this so-called ‘ethnic problem’ a quote from Prof. A J Wilson is important.
"A second tactic is to destabilize the internal political situation. Political murders, acts of sabotage, and inflammatory and provocative speeches are the established forms and these have been tried. The Sinhalese masses and their lower-level ethnic leadership are needled by such acts and urge their rank and file to take retaliatory action. Nothing is more satisfying to Tamil militants” (p 301 Sri Lanka and its future: Sinhalese versus Tamils).
Its chilling to think how low these Tamil leaders will stoop to which is why it is important to keep these ground realities in any negotiations with them.
1. The demands by Tamil leaders started well before independence & rooted in the disappointed that 76m world Tamils do not have a State to call their own. Blame the British not the Sinhalese!
2. Armed militancy & Tamil political aspirations are inter linked.
3. Tami caste riots have numbered more than the claimed riots by Sinhalese against Tamils (at least 6 such Tamil caste riots before 1956) not to mention Tamil high caste going against the Social Disabilities Act of 1957 opposing the right of Tamil low castes to enter school and study! Tamil leaders even wanted caste included to the constitution
4. India’s role using Tamil card to leverage its own geopolitical aspirations
5. West’s role using Tamil minority card to leverage its geopolitical neocon agendas.
The divide & rule legacy
The divide and rule policies of the 3 European Christian occupiers created the menace of communal division that we suffer from today. The superiority complex in the minorities derived from purposely establishing missionary schools in minority areas, giving English missionary education to Tamils and installing them in British controlled government sector. TIME magazine of 5 August 1966 indicates the creation of an ‘administrative overclass’
Prof. S Arasaratnam says there were over 10,000 Tamil public servants in the British administration. “You Sinhalese govern but it is we Tamils who rule” (K C Nithyanada) In other words it mean that Tamils have the ability to rule whoever governs the country. How right he is.
Yet there are scholars from Prof. A J Wilson to Prof. S Arasaratnam accept that Sinhala Buddhism arose and developed as an anti-Western and anti-Colonial force and not against Tamils. So why is it that Christian Sinhalese and many others always want to blame the Sinhala Buddhists!
Tamils were included as Malabars in the 1824 Census under Governor Sir Edward Barnes, where Malabars were 195,697 and total island population was 851,940. In 1835 under Governor Horton the total island population was placed at 1,241,825. In 1857 under Governor Emmerson Tenet the total population was 1,697,975. This figure excluded the Europeans, their families and the Malays. 1881 Census showed a population 2,759,738.
The Census of 1901 was taken under the superintendence of Mr. P. Arunachalam & the population showed a substantial increase 3,565,954. The census of 1911 was 4,106,350 an increase of 71% to 1871 census. It was only during the 1911 Census that 2 categories of Tamils emerged separated by Ponnambalam Arunachalam. Those born in Ceylon were to be called Ceylon Tamils & Tamils born in India were to be called Indian Tamils
It was Governor Manner who began encouraging ‘communal representation’ promoting minority & majority politics.
The facts – Tamil Language
Before Portuguese, Dutch, British invaded and ruled parts or all of Sri Lanka – Tamil language was NEVER the official language in Sri Lanka.
After Portuguese, Dutch, British rule – the Tamil language was NEVER an official language in Sri Lanka or even language of administration. Where then is the grievance that Tamils can use that the Tamil language was discriminated? Wheras, Sinhala language was used by rulers before foreign invasions. Sinhala language lost its official status following foreign occupation.
The facts – Sinhala Language & Buddhism
The Official Language Act no 33 of 1956 declared Sinhala language ‘shall be the one official language of Ceylon.’ But the ACT was to come into effect only on 1 January 1964. It was abrogated and never fully implemented while reasonable use of the Tamil Language was also enacted in 1958. Contrary to the promotion being made that it was purposely targeting Tamils, the Act forced Sinhalese who had been studying in English to learn Sinhala too and the Burghers had to learn Sinhalese as well. Therefore, it is a fallacious assumption that the Sinhala Only Act was meant to target only Tamils.
While everyone loves to snub SWRD for bringing the Sinhala Only, it would come as a shock to UNPers to know that JR Jayawardena in 1944 brought a motion to the State Council that Sinhala should be made the only official language.!
The 1815 Kandyan Convention key clause included the commitment by the British to retain the foremost place to Buddhism – no such commitment was made by British to any other faith. The Kandyan Convention was signed between the Sinhale rulers & the British. Had there been a separate Tamil kingdom as is promoted the British should have signed a separate agreement with them which they did not!
The facts on Tamil separatist demands
Demands for a Tamil Nation, Tamil state came about well BEFORE the 1956 supposed official language act.
In 1923 Ceylon Tamil League was formed by Ponnambalam Arunachalam.
Politics of caste was prominent over politics of race. Racial representation was begun by the British, who appointed representatives to the Legislative council, based on race and restricted to the ""highest" castes. The Sinhalese were further split into Low-country and Kandyan, an existing division which was exploited to weaken their power.
In 1927 when the Donoughmore Commission was about to offer Universal Franchise giving everyone a right to vote irrespective of caste, the Tamils were first to oppose because they realized that they would lose their dominant position. GG Ponnambalam began a campaign against Universal Franchise & the Sinhalese. It was during a Nawalapitiya meeting when he was attacking the Sinhalese that the first Sinhala-Tamil riots broke out in 1939. This led to SWRD forming the Sinhala Maha Sabha adopting the Sinhala national dress that led to the temperance movement. The takeaway from this is to highlight that it was Tamil action that resulted in Sinhala reaction.
G G Ponnambalam demanded 50-50 representation when Sinhalese were 75% of population and minorities were 15%. This culminated in the formation of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress in 1944. What is not mentioned often is that when GGPonnambalam demanded the absurd 50-50 the Sinhala Board of Ministers offered a ratio of 57 to 43 which was refused and many Tamil leaders believe that had that been accepted the 1949 ITAK demanding a separate Tamil state or Vaddukoddai Resolution may not have resulted. The same is said of the offer by Chandrika to Prabakaran to reign for 10 years without election!
The Ceylon Tamil Congress alleged before the Soulbury Commission that between 1931 and 1943, out of a total expenditure of about eleven and a half million rupees on major irrigation works, the Northern and Eastern Provinces (where the Tamils are most numerous) received a little more than two million rupees or about nineteen per cent of the total. Exactly similar to the lies present day Tamil leaders promote.
1935 Hansard (column 3045) shows Ponnambalam Arunachalam claiming to be a proud Dravidian rejecting Ceylonese concept that embraced all ethnic groups (ref Dr. Jane Russell, Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution). Nothing to be surprised GG Ponnambalam says ‘We are not Ceylonese we are Dravidians’. Ok fine, but then why ask a homeland in Sri Lanka!
The racism of GG Ponnambalam included opposition to universal franchise, demanding 50-50 representation, upholding caste system making visits to London to include caste system in the constitution! Promoting notion that Tamils ruled Sinhalese and Vijaya was a Tamil and King Parakramabahu was Tamil. No different to Wignesaran claiming King Devanampiyatissa was a Tamil. Ponnambalam refused to accept Tamils as a minority on account of his Dravida allegiance. Racism was fashionable in Europe in 1930s and GG imported it to Sri Lanka to replace casteism. It was because D S Senanayake craftily managed to get GG to the UNP camp that Chelvanayagam went on to form ITAK in 1949 –Arasu meaning League of Tamil Federations (the present confederal demands aligns perfectly with this objective)
E. M. V. Naganathan (born in Madras & ITAK’S Secretary & President in 1966) claimed he was a descendant of the Cholas. It may be opportune to make a list of all the obnoxious claims by these Tamil leaders over the years!
A separate Tamil identity was promoted by the ITAK and they began to invent grievances which was meant to purposely provoke the majority.
We seem to have also conveniently forgotten that ITAK in fact did seek a separate Tamil autonomous state in 1973. To strengthen this in 1975 ITAK joined hands with TULF and culminated in the 1976 Vaddukoddai Resolution. Noteworthy too is the assassination of SLFP Tamil Mayor of Jaffna Alfred Duraiappah in 1975.
TULF contested the 1977 General Elections on the separatist ticket. Registered voters were 6,667,589 and TULF won 421,488 with 18 seats (Tamil population was roughly 1.1m). TULF formed an alliance with the Indian-backed paramilitary groups, Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF), Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), to contest the 15 February 1989 election. But it secured only 188,593 votes! At the 1994 General elections too TULF won only 132,461 votes. The vote patterns do not show Tamil general public to be aligning with the racism of their leaders!
What we have is the continuous of what GGPonnambalam began claiming that Tamils ruled Sinhalese & Sinhalese were offshoot of the Tamils none of which he or any other could prove!
This is how GG Ponnambalam scored at elections he contested.
1947 General Elections. Registered voters - 3,048,145 / 14,324 votes(46% voter turnout)
1952 General Elections. Registered voters - 2,990,912 / 12,726 votes from Jaffna (71% voter turnout)
1965 General Elections. Registered voters - 4,710,887 / 9,350 votes from Jaffna
Even S. J. V. Chelvanayakam contesting Kankasanthurai received only 12,126 votes
Even TNA in 2001 received only 348,164 but ended up getting 15 seats! While in 2004 TNA received 633,654 though the European Election Monitors in their report established LTTE and TNA as one and the same.
In 2010 TNA obtained 233,190 but got 14 seats (14million registered voters)
In 2015 TNA obtained 515,963 and got 16 seats (15million registered voters).
And there are supposed to be 2.2million Tamils in Sri Lanka.
What is noteworthy is that far from these racist Tamil leaders being accepted by the Tamil people the results at elections shows clearly that the Tamil people have rejected them. This is also evident when taking the election results of the TNA. So, why are Sinhala leaders and supposedly smart political analysts trying to promote Tamil racist politicians whom the general public resents and rejects. Why are we even accommodating the demands of these racist leaders?
What is important to this discussion is that it is the Tamils that on their own sought to separate without any solid reasons for doing so and create the fictitious and mythical background for doing so. One or two incidents surely does not warrant any minority group to be seeking separation while reserving the rights to remain & live in all parts of the island!
These actions are crucial to understanding the root causes of the issue and why these aspects need to be dealt with first. There is no better time than now to stop the compromising based on lies and myths and to ask these leaders to lay down the exact grievances they have without continuing to live in a cuckoo land.
What is clear is that the quest for a separate Tamil state first initiated in Tamil Nadu was passed on to Sri Lanka well before independence and 1956 Language Act and its link to militancy emerged with the 1976 Vaddukoddai Resolution again before 1983 riots. No constitution can be allowed to incorporate any of these separatist demands under whatever nomenclatures it is promoted. Advisors cannot bring Euro-Centric international terminologies that they have coined for their benefit and plug them to Sri Lanka’s scenario. We need to be realistic and practical. Sri Lanka is a small island. India is 48 times larger than us. Whose bright idea is it to bring federal solutions befitting countries the size of India to Sri Lanka? To even consider this as a compromise replacing unitary with federal is ridiculous. These compromises will bring further chaos and therefore what needs to be asked is to completely thrown out all of the past solutions and compromises and to start afresh by coming out with what the Tamils are suffer that other communities do not. Without this basic and fundamental questions answered we are going nowhere. In terms of a viable solution what needs to be said is that we don’t need political solutions (these are to benefit politicians only) we need administrative solutions that directly affect and will solve 90% of the problems the general public faces on a daily basis)
Some memorable excerpts
‘Take the Sinhalese nation. I have served the race all my life. In my twenty-eighth year I entered the Legislative Council and never once have I thought myself to be a member of the Tamil community only — I supported the Sinhalese interests and every other interest and treated every subject with the same sympathy and desire to do the best for all communities. I knew through and through the men and women of the Sinhalese community of all classes. They have all the characteristics of a great people. They are decidedly considerate and peaceful.’
Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan (Tamil Leader)
"The Ceylon Tamils had no written document on the lines of the Mahavamsa to authenticate their singular and separate historical authority in Sri Lanka, a fact which Ceylon Tamil communalists found very irksome". Jane Russel
Shenali D Waduge