A point of view by a peace loving Sri Lankan Tamil having spent 30 years in Sri Lanka and the later 30 years in the U.K.
This is my personal view of Sri Lankan Tamils: Karunanidhi, Jayalalitha, Vaico, Nadumaran all are dancers to the changing tunes of the Tamil Nadu Politics poor Sri Lankan Tamils are used as Pawns for their political board game.
The truth is as follows as I was a Sri Lankan Tamil born and brought up in Sri Lanka grown with the Sinhalese, Muslims and Jaffna Tamils.
I am a Colombo born Tamil; I know my father came from Tamil Nadu in 1912. My mother also Colombo Tamil, born in Gampaha and her grand parents may have come from Tamil Nadu. My mother’s side all were Ceylon Government Railway (CGR) workers, under British administration and my father had a Government service with the CGR for 40 years in Colombo.
After my father’s retirement from Railways we lived in Kandy, I was a Trinitian went to Trinity College in Kandy. I had very good Sinhala and Muslim schoolmates and friends. We had good Teachers from Batticaloa, Jaffna and a very strict Sinhalese Principal. Sri Lankan Government services not oppressed me.
Bruce Fein labours to Justify contractual payments of $30,000 each month from the Tamil Tiger Terrorist Front called the Tamils For Justice
Bruce Fein a Harvard Graduate and a Reagan era Deputy Attorney General of Justice attached to The Lichfield Group who in an article published in the Washington Times dated February 3, 2004 fully endorsed the banning of terrorists including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers. He subsequently offered his services effective October 1, 2006 to lobby on behalf of the Friends of Sri Lanka to have the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran brought before an appropriate tribunal for war crimes, and to bring criminal charges against supporters and sympathisers of the LTTE in the US Courts amongst other services at a fee of $25,000 per month. He renewed his offer in February 2007 to defend the listing of the LTTE for a fee of $40,000.
Strangely, the same Bruce Fein offers his services in 2008 to a front organization of the LTTE called the Tamils For Justice to seek de-proscription of the LTTE and win US support for establishment of a separate Tamil State in the north and east of Sri Lanka, this time seeking $30,000 each month for a contractual term of nine months. He certainly appears to know that the Tamil Tiger coffers are stacked with illicitly earned green backs from trading in narcotics, smuggling of humans, extortion, credit card fraud, and every conceivable crime, and are desperately in need of whitewashing or laundering of their dirt in the western capitals to stall the fast receding boundaries of their usurped territory in Sri Lanka.
Despite his highly acknowledged credentials as a lawyer, what we saw as mere laymen was that Bruce Fein’s strategy is partial disclosure of events and historical data that he highlights to support his case, with his very subtle spin aimed at misleading the reader or listener into reaching conclusions that are far removed from the truth. In other words, he is not truthful and does not state facts as they are, but distorts the real position to mislead persons in the US who are far removed from the history, politics and everyday issues of Sri Lanka. It is not surprising to understand that Americans know little of the outside world and especially a tiny island such as Sri Lanka. In fact, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program called “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” found that a good proportion of US citizens did not know that their neighbour Canada was an independent country. Bruce certainly lacks knowledge of Sri Lanka, and obviously puts out the doctored separatist propaganda provided by the LTTE front, the Tamils For Justice group that he represents.
Having read his article in the Washington Times of January 29, 2008 and his subsequent address at the Brookings Institute, it is necessary to bring out some of the inaccurate statements that he relies on to make a case for de-proscription of the LTTE and break up Sri Lanka into two separate states to be dominated by the Tamils and Sinhalese instead of the multi-ethnic whole:
Bruce Fein claims that the Sinhalese denied citizenship and disenfranchised a million Tamils immediately after independence from Britain in 1948.
The fact is that the Tamils of Indian origin who were brought in by the British colonial regime as indentured labour from Tamilnadu for work on newly established plantations set up on lands confiscated from the indigenous Sinhalese land owners without a penny in compensation, did not qualify for citizenship in terms of the seven year residency stipulated in the Citizenship Act. These Indian Tamils were migrant workers who considered Tamilnadu their home, often returned to India with their earned wages. The Citizenship Act was passed in parliament by the elected members from the Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamil, Muslim, Malay and Burgher communities, and not just by the Sinhalese as stated by the lawyer Bruce Fein. The case of the stateless Indian Tamils was amicably resolved in 1963 with Prime Minister Shastri agreeing to take those opting for Indian citizenship, and Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike undertaking to absorb the rest. A balance of 94,000 who did not proceed to India as earlier decided were also granted Sri Lankan citizenship in the 1980’s.
Bruce claims that the Tamil minority has been oppressed by a brutal regime controlled by the majority for the past 50 years, which entitles them to seek a separate breakaway state.
Bruce is merely parroting Tamil separatist propaganda without studying the underlying facts. The Tamil minority of 11 percent in pre-independent Ceylon (Sri Lanka) were a privileged minority community that benefited immensely during the 145 years of British colonial rule under the latter’s divide and rule policy. The new Christian Missionary Schools were established in Tamil areas such as Jaffna for the dual purpose of propping up the minority against the majority and also with an eye to converting the Tamils who suffered indignities due to a strict caste system prevailing under the dominant Hindu culture. Fewer schools were started in the rest of the country to cater to the multicultural communities outside Jaffna, creating a serious imbalance in access to education. As a result, the Tamil minority came to dominate the majority in almost every field of economic activity, in that they demanded balanced representation for the 11 percent Tamils with the 78 percent Sinhalese in the new parliament popularly called the 50:50 cry, which the Commission set up by the British under Lord Soulbury rejected as an insidious attempt to make a minority of a majority, and instead recommended the grant of universal franchise to all citizens over 21.
It is not oppression of the minority, but a minority that wanted to retain their dominance over the majority even after the departure of their British colonial fairy godmother following independence. Instead of adopting a cooperative approach they decided on a confrontational stance on ethnic lines, which naturally caused friction and hostility giving rise to serious clashes on certain occasions. It is unfortunate that the Tamils have always organised themselves on communal lines and avoided joining mainstream national political parties. The cry for balanced representation later turned to a separatist cry adopting the infamous Vadukkodai Resolution of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in 1976, based on myth and fantasy of a traditional Tamil homeland in the north and east of Sri Lanka which they could not substantiate. This false claim was used by the TULF to mislead the Tamil youth and encourage them to take up arms against the Sinhalese to gain their separate state of “Eelam”. (Ref. Justice Sansoni Commission Report)
BF – The 1958 Sinhalese Only Act was a landmark in the history of Tamil oppression, which reflected a Sinhalese policy of “separate and unequal” that has persisted for 50 years.
The Sinhala Official Language Act and not the ‘Sinhalese Only Act’ was introduced in 1956 to recognize the language spoken by 78 percent of the people, and to replace the alien language of English spoken by just about 5 percent of the population, due to the limited access to English education in spite of 145 years of British colonial administration. It was a measure adopted to give redress to the vast majority of the population that had been marginalized throughout colonial rule. In India, Hindi spoken by 44 percent was made the official language as a unifying measure, just as much as the USA keeps English as the official language even though it has become a mixing bowl of a multitude of languages and cultures.
The Sinhala Official Language Act merely required that official records of the state would be kept in Sinhala, and it further required those public sector employees to acquire a working knowledge of the official language assessed at the Grade 8 level within a space of 5 years, failing which, with the option of retiring from public service with full pension rights. Contrary to what BF states, every Tamil child was provided with opportunities to be educated in the Tamil medium from the kindergarten to university free of charge at state expense.
Furthermore, a Reasonable Use of Tamil Language Act of 1958 was adopted, formalizing a set of Tamil language rights which also required public servants to have a working knowledge of Tamil to be able to serve in Tamil areas. Added Tamil linguistic rights and concessions were introduced in 1965 by the government led by Dudley Senanayake. Tamil language was enhanced as a National Language by the Second Republican Constitution of 1978 enshrining an array of rights far exceeding those enjoyed by English Canadians in Quebec and French Canadians in the rest of Canada. Thus within a short space of 22 years Tamil linguistic rights gained ascendancy to meet levels acceptable to most Tamils. Tamil was again elevated as an official language in the 1990’s bringing it on par with Sinhala. It must be added that language is not a fundamental right and needs to be won through the political process by gaining support of the constituency.
BF states, in 1983, the Sinhalese Government originated race riots that culminated in the slaughter of 4000 Tamils, and that no Tamil was compensated.
It is true that Tamils suffered at the hands of a mob that ran amok in 1983 after the non-transfer of bodies of 13 Sinhalese soldiers killed by Tamil militants by a claymore mine attack and simultaneous machine gunfire, to the respective families to conduct last rites, a decision apparently taken at the time to avoid the identical situation as display of badly battered bodies in the several townships and villages had the potential to trigger similar riots in the country. It was not originated by the government though certain elements are suspected of having participated. Also, it was the government led by the United National Party and not “the Sinhalese Government” that was in power at the time, which had representatives of the Tamil and Muslim communities in the cabinet.
The number of Tamil deaths according to official sources was 400, whilst BF has given an exaggerated figure of 4,000, both of which are unreliable. Most Sinhalese took steps to protect their Tamil neighbours and friends from the mob at great personal risk, of which little is said by those so protected. The Sinhalese have acknowledged the serious crimes committed against the Tamils during the riots in 1983 and have publicly apologised, whilst the state took steps to compensate the victims and apologise to the Tamil community both at the local and international forums.
BF and most Sri Lanka observers have failed to note the prevailing situation in the period prior to 1983 which contributed to the building of communal tensions such as the forced eviction of the 27,000 Sinhalese residents in the Jaffna peninsula in the late 1970’s following the adoption of the Vadukkodai Resolution, the forced closure of the Sinhala stream at the University of Jaffna necessitating the evacuation of 400 Sinhalese students to safety in 1981, and the blatantly false propaganda carried on outside the country by the Tamils to demonize the Sinhalese. These factors have been ignored and left out in determining the causes for the unfortunate eruption that occurred in July 1983, in the aftermath of the killing of the 13 soldiers that triggered the mob violence.
The riots of 1983 involving the Sinhalese who had hitherto treated the various minorities with respect was clearly an aberration. The Sinhalese who have regretted the action of the mob have remained calm despite numerous brutal attacks carried out by the LTTE with intent to deliberately provoke them, such as the killing of 144 pilgrims at the Sacred Bodhi Shrine in Anuradhapura, killing of 33 Buddhist monks at Arantalawa, regular bombing of passenger buses and trains and targeting of civilians in public places, attack on the world renowned Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy, and untold massacre of thousands of Sinhalese residents and Muslims in the north and east of Sri Lanka to ethnically cleanse the region of non-Tamils, in areas sought for their mono-ethnic Tamil racist separate state comprising 1/3rd of the land and 2/3rd of the coast for residentTamils numbering less than 4 percent of the island’s total population.
Notwithstanding the riots of 1983, the temporarily displaced Tamils have been able to return to their homes and livelihoods in the City of Colombo and other places in the south, whereas the ejected Sinhalese and Muslims have not been able to get back to their former places of residence due to the danger to their lives. In fact, a larger proportion of Tamils have taken up residence in Colombo and its suburbs and other southern townships to live in mixed ethnic surroundings midst the Sinhalese majority, as they have opted to distance themselves from the influence and control of the self-declared sole representative of the Tamils, i.e. the LTTE. Today, the Tamils account for the second largest group in the capital city of Colombo following closely on the Muslims who are in the majority, whilst the Sinhalese community are in third place.
BF – General statements on Discrimination of Tamils in education and employment.
The oft repeated statement that Tamil students had to score higher marks than Sinhalese students to gain admission to universities is a distortion of the truth. In
1972, Sri Lanka introduced a scheme of standardization as a temporary measure to assist children in less developed areas (districts) having schools with sparse facilities in respect of teachers, libraries, science laboratories, and other extra-curricular activities, to be able to enter higher educational institutes with a lower aggregate of marks as against students in districts such as Colombo, Kandy, Matara, Kurunegala, Jaffna, etc. that had far superior facilities. This enabled students in Tamil areas such as Kayts, Vanni, Vavunia, and Sinhalese areas such as Moneragala, Hambantota, Ampara, to be admitted to universities with lower scores, while both Sinhalese and Tamil students from the better facilitated city schools requiring higher scores had to give up some places to their rural counterparts. It has been wrongly described as a measure to restrict the admission of Tamil students, whereas it was to assist the deprived students notwithstanding their ethnicity.
In fact, Jaffna earlier regarded as a district with superior facilities has deteriorated following the upheaval caused by the long drawn out separatist conflict in the north and east, is today the beneficiary of the standardization scheme, enabling Tamil students to acquire places in universities with a lower aggregate.
As regards employment, the Tamil cry of discrimination does not hold when you examine the proportion of high positions held by members of this community. In 1981, when the Tamil minority population was only 12.6%, they had 34.9% of the engineers, 29.9% surveyors, 35.1% doctors, 38.8% veterinary surgeons, 30.2% medical technicians, 41.5% life scientists, and 33.1% accountants in the public service in Sri Lanka. Tamils have held high offices such as Chief Justice, High Court Judge, Attorney General, Army Commander, Navy Commander, Inspector General of Police, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Heads of Departments, Heads of Diplomatic Missions, which is most commendable for members of a minority community. Tamil judges and other senior officials have been held in high esteem by the public.
BF – The oppressed Tamil minority should have the right to break up a sovereign nation and establish separate statehood as in the case of Kosovo.
Sri Lanka founded over 2600 years back by the indigenous Sinhala people has a pre-history still being unravelled by archaeological experts. She has never invaded others lands. Sri Lanka has welcomed friend and foe, and permitted even defeated Chola and Pandyan Tamil invaders of South India to make it their home. Amongst Sri Lanka’s ethnic mosaic are the majority Sinhalese comprising 78.5 percent, Sri Lankan Tamils roughly 7.8 percent, Muslims (Moors) making up 7.8 percent, Indian Tamils numbering 5.4 percent, whilst Malays from Indonesia and Burghers who are descendants of the Portuguese and Dutch colonialists make up the balance of approximately 0.5 percent. The Tamils who initially came as invaders to pillage and plunder came as settlers only around the 11th century. The homeland of the Tamils is Tamilnadu in South India where an estimated 61 million Tamils live.
Today, Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic country with no exclusive homeland of any single ethnic group, with the majority of the people living in mixed ethnic surroundings except for some parts of the north which were ethnically cleansed in recent times by Tamil militants who forcibly evicted the long resident Sinhala and Muslim people. The Tamils like all other citizens enjoy equal rights as enshrined in the Fundamental Rights Chapter of the Nation’s Constitution. As a result of favoured treatment meted out to Tamils by the British colonial ruler for over 145 years, they have arrived at the notion that they are more than equal and should therefore continue to dominate the other communities, or have a separate state for their exclusive domain for which they have engaged in armed warfare for the past three decades.
The people of Sri Lanka are not willing to grant the demand made by a segment of the Tamil community for a separate state, but are agreeable to devolve some power to the periphery to a unit yet to be determined such as the district council, and to share some powers at the centre to enable the minorities to participate in the day to day governance.
There are absolutely no parallels to the Kosovo situation in Sri Lanka. The UN Security Council Resolution Number 1244 of June 10, 1999 recognized that Kosovo was an integral part of Serbia and formed part of Serbia’s sovereign territory. Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence and recognition of Kosovo as an independent sovereign country by the USA, UK, France, Germany and some others is in violation of the Charter of the United Nations and Resolution adopted by the Security Council in 1999 of which the USA and UK are key members. The USA is now backtracking from its earlier position as contained in the UN Security Council Resolution, and has now claimed that the unusual combination of factors found in the Kosovo situation allows her to recognize the breakaway state of Kosovo. The USA further stated that Kosovo cannot be seen as a precedent for any other situation in the world today.
Bruce Fein’s position on the claim for Tamil statehood in Sri Lanka is untenable and lacks any legal, historical or other basis to support it. The only reason that he touched on it is probably to make some undue turbulence to justify the high fees charged to his client. If the Tamils are unwilling to live as equals within the common homeland of Sri Lanka, they are free to move back to their motherland of Tamilnadu in South India, Bruce Fein country or any other place where they would be free to become true worshippers of the ‘Sun God’, as the LTTE’s sun gradually sets in the Vanni and the separatist fires fade away.
Prof. Sivayogalingam passed away day before yesterday. He was a Senior Lecturer attached to the Department of Political Science of University of Peradeniya, passed away day before yesterday. Last week he has sent couple of his articles to CT. One article; “Muslims Are The Present Target Group For Sinhala Hegemonic Nationalists” was published last week. We publish below another article by him – CT
Sri Lankan society is an ethno-religious mosaic and within the ethnic groups, there are clear religious divisions as well. To a certain extent, ethnicity and religion also have a regional basis, which is a significant reason why the Tamil militancy has a strong geographical dimension, which extended to the demand of a separate independent state. Of the ethnic and religious groups, Tamil Hindus predominate in the Northern Province and maintain a significant presence in the Eastern Province. The Eastern Province is an ethnically mixed area where Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese are found in sizeable numbers even though Tamils have a slightly higher statistical edge. Indian Tamils—the descendants of laborers brought from Southern India by the British in the 19th century to work on tea and coffee estates—are concentrated in parts of the Central, Uwa and Sabaragamuwa Provinces. Sinhalese Buddhists predominate in all parts of the country except the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Muslims have a significant concentration in the Eastern Province, but generally are scattered throughout the country. Christians maintain a significant presence in the coastal areas as a result of over 500 years of constant European colonial presence and the consequent Christianization of significant numbers of the population in these areas. However, Christians are found in all parts of the country in small numbers. Malays are mostly concentrated in and around the city of Colombo and the Western Province.
By the time Sri Lanka achieved independence in 1948 from the UK, there were expectations that the country would become a model democracy. Universal adult franchise had been introduced in the 1931, democratic institutions and traditions had been in place and political violence was not an issue. Moreover, by the 1950s literacy in Sri Lanka was on the rise and there were no serious indicators of economic or social catastrophes of the years to come. However, even before independence, there were clear indications of ethnic politics that were to emerge later.
The ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has many root causes and consequences that are closely interlinked. It is primarily can be broadly identified as: Ethnic politics and the interpretation of the past; Politics of language; Politics of education; and other factors, including employment and land.
The Emergence of Ethnic Politics
Relations between Tamils and Sinhalese have not always or consistently been antagonistic. This happened only in times of external threats from South India after the formulation of clear Sinhalese and Tamil ethnic or cultural identities in the 9th (or 12th) century. These wars were wars of dominance fought between regional rulers and were not ‘race’ wars as defined later. Historical chronicles compiled by Sinhalese Buddhist monks defined these wars as campaigns undertaken to protect Buddhism and the Sinhalese nation. Meanwhile, one million Indian Tamils were disenfranchised in 1948 under the Ceylon Citizenship Act. Of this, approximately 350,000 were repatriated to India under the Indo-Ceylon Agreement of 1964.
Ethnic Conflict and Language
In addition to the barriers imposed by the continued use of the English language as the official language after independence, the emerging nationalist forces perceived that Sri Lankan Tamils had access to a disproportionate share of power as a consequence of educational opportunities in the colonial period and were also disproportionately represented in the civil administration. Moreover, considerable mercantile interests were also controlled by non-Sinhalese groups. These fears and concerns were a basis for the politics of language that was to emerge.
As early as 1944, politicians proposed resolutions in Parliament to declare Sinhalese the official language, while other amendments proposed both Sinhalese and Tamil as official languages. In 1956, S.W.R.D Bandaranaike was elected Prime Minister with a main election promise of establishing Sinhalese as the official language of the country, replacing English. The new government fulfilled this promise—through the passage of the so-called “Sinhalese Only Bill” (Official Language Act, No. 33 of 1956)—soon after the election giving no status of parity to the Tamil language.
The language issue in many ways brought the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict into the forefront of Sri Lankan politics. In terms of the dominant strands of Sinhalese nationalism, the Sinhalese language along with the Buddhist religion necessarily had to occupy the pre-eminent position in society. This was perceived to be the only way the glory of ancient Sinhalese civilization could be revitalized. Even though Tamil has been decreed an official language along with Sinhalese in terms of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (in 1987), the damage caused by the politics of language generally remain unaddressed. Moreover, the vast gap between the official recognition of Tamil as an official language and the practical implementation of the provisions and conditions it entails, is yet to be bridged.
Ethnic Conflict and Education
Since the 1970s, access to education—particularly access to higher education—has been ethnicized. In addition, many other aspects of education—including the structural organization of schools and universities, contents of textbooks and training of teachers—have impacted directly on ethnic conflict. Compared to other ethnic and religious groups in the country, Tamils have had strong cultural norms which valued education. Many Tamils attended English language schools which were the passport to higher education and better employment in the colonial period. As a consequence of well-funded American missionary activities, the Tamil-dominated Northern Province had comparatively better facilities for English language and pre-university education.
In this context, post-independence Sinhalese nationalism sought to curb the Tamil presence in education and thus also in the professions and civil administration. While the passing of the “Sinhalese Only Bill” was one attempt in this process, more direct hurdles were placed on the path of Tamils’ realization of educational goals since the 1970s. The constitutional provisions in the 1972 Constitution favoring the Sinhalese language and Buddhist religion, along with their educational policies, convinced many Tamils that they had been perceived as a marginal community.
From 1971 onwards, a new “standardization” policy was adopted, which ensured that the number of students qualifying for university entrance from each language was proportionate to the number of students who sat for university entrance examination in that language. In real terms this meant that Tamil speaking students had to score much higher than Sinhalese speaking students to gain admission to universities. This also meant that for the first time, the integrity of university admissions policy was tampered with by using ethnicity as a basis. In 1972, a district quota system was introduced in order to benefit those not having adequate access to educational facilities within each language. These changes had a serious impact on the demographic patterns of university entry.
In general, these policies seriously impacted upon not only the chances of Tamils to gain access to higher education, but also on the overall process of ethnic relations as well. In 1977, the language-based admission policy was abolished and since that time various adjustments have been introduced on the basis of merit, district quotas, disadvantaged area quotas, etc. While the obvious ethno-linguistic discrimination of the 1971 policy has long been dismantled, many Tamil youth still feel that they are discriminated against in access to higher education.
Ethnic Conflict and Employment
As mentioned above, both language and education policies have placed barriers on employment, especially in the administrative and professional ranks in which Tamils were at one point “overrepresented.” as a result of the discrimination that has occurred in state sector employment practices over time, there is a tendency among many Tamils to perceive of themselves as generally discriminated against in employment. According to the census of public sector and corporate sector employment in 1990, Sri Lankan Tamils accounted for 5.9% of those employed in the state services. This represents a significant drop from earlier years.
Ethnic Conflict and the Issue of Land
The issue of ownership over and access to land has also been a consistent area in which ethnic politics in Sri Lanka have manifested, and have sustained themselves over the years. As noted, one of the peculiarities in the demographic patterns in Sri Lanka is the relative concentration of certain ethnic groups in certain geographical regions. The clearest site of politics of land and ethnicity has been in the sparsely populated areas of the dry zone in the North Central Province and the Eastern Province. When post-independence governments decided to settle poor Sinhalese farmers from the densely populated wet zone areas of the country, many Sinhalese politicians and people in general viewed the process as a “reclamation and recreation in the present of the glorious Sinhalese Buddhist past.” The so-called “colonization schemes” became an integral aspect of Sinhalese Buddhist ‘nation-building.’
Not surprisingly, the Tamils had a completely different perception of the colonization of the dry zone. The notion of the ‘traditional Tamil homeland’ became a potent component of popular Tamil political imagination. Since Sinhalese irrigation settlements in the North Central and Eastern Provinces occurred under direct state sponsorship, it appeared to many Tamils as a deliberate attempt of the Sinhalese-dominated state to marginalize them further by decreasing their numbers in the area. The colonization schemes did alter the demographic patterns, particularly in the Eastern Province in a significant way.