By Ratnajeevan H. Hoole –
Ethnic Cleansing, Rio Ice Cream and Sinhalese Bread
Hon. Champika Ranawaka, our Minister of Power and Energy, has authored an op-ed piece (The Nation, Nov. 25) that is quite mad. Titled “Blatant attempt to justify ethnic cleansing in North,” it made me naturally think, given his extremist politics, that he wanted to rid the North of us Tamils – but no, he was alleging the North being cleansed of Sinhalese.
In arguing that Jaffna has been ethnically cleansed, he queries why Jaffna is still deprived of Sinhalese bakery food although, he avers, a sales outlet for Jaffna’s famous Rio ice-cream is in Colombo.
For an engineer running an organization raking in over Rs. 100 bn and managing some 800 engineers, his logic is faulty. For life is a lot more than bread and ice-cream. If he comes to Jaffna, he will see bread by Sinhalese at the supermarkets. Indeed, the supermarkets, the army, the navy, the police, luxury buses, the banks, the Moratuwa steel furniture and its hawkers, and the government itself – almost everything is from the South. At his Electricity Board, when the Tamil Deputy General Manager (North) retired, Ranawaka moved his Sinhalese replacement’s station out of Jaffna to Anuradhapura although his work is mainly in Jaffna.
We Tamils of the North are the only people in Sri Lanka without our own provincial government. All our ministers are from the South except for one man who is wanted for murder.
Living Anywhere in Sri Lanka
Ranawaka makes much of the 2012 census listing “231,318 Tamils in [the] Colombo district and 106,318 in [the] Colombo Municipal area alone.” He then argues that these figures “bear clear testimony to the fact that there is no ethnic problem in the southern part of Sri Lanka.” Obviously he has not heard of Tamils having to sign their statements in Sinhalese at Colombo Police Stations, the navy harassing fishermen in Nachikuda and tearing up their nets, and home-guards taking over Tamil lands in the East.
The most flawed is his argument where Ranawaka admits to traditional homelands which Urumayists do not let us claim: “Tamils can live in any part of Sri Lanka whilst the Sinhalese and Muslims are not allowed the basic right of settling down in their respective historical villages and townships.” Tamils and Muslims as peoples who have been subject to multiple persecutions, rampaging mobs, and wild armed forces of the state, need state protection. But the Sinhalese as the majority wielding all powers of state institutions need no protection. One cannot speak of the Sinhalese and the minorities as if we are equals.
Some Tamils do live in Colombo by choice because of its economic attractions. Many Sinhalese do not live in Jaffna because it is an economic wasteland, thanks to the army and LTTE, and the development policies of successive governments since independence. Indeed, no one today stops Sinhalese from living in Jaffna. Since the 2002 ceasefire the only ethnic cleansing there has been of Tamils from our lands for Buddhist temples, security zones, and the army and foreign companies to do business. In the Vanni abandoned lands alienated before the 50 acre reform limit and on which destitute Tamils have settled and lived for decades, are being reclaimed for southern and foreign companies, throwing out without any judicial process those living there with rightful claims. Even lands owned by Tamils with deeds have been sold by a beloved government MP.
When I was on the UGC there was a fundamental rights case that was conflict-ridden. The child of a prosecutor who had just moved to the apex court was involved and the AG had declined to defend the UGC, leaving that to the private bar. And when the Supreme Court ordered more medical admissions as expected, we had to send some to Jaffna for lack of any other place.
The Sinhalese on the UGC readily recognized that Sinhalese students would go there and within a year say they cannot live there and ask for a transfer to universities with better degree recognition. This would create problems at the already over-crowded southern medical faculties. So the UGC decided that if students subsequently transferred to other universities, their degrees would be issued by Jaffna using credit transfer. (The UGC was usurping Jaffna University’s powers; that is the nature of colonial governance). But that has not stopped students from lobbying. As I write, there are reports that the disturbances created by the Army at Jaffna University are being used by Sinhalese students there to leave!
Provincial Elections Promised: So Cancel Provincial Councils
Ranawaka further argues against holding provincial council elections in the North on the grounds that “Without re-establishing the ethnic composition and the demographic balance that prevailed in 1971, to hold such an election will constitute a great injustice towards the Sinhalese and Muslims.”
Provincial Council elections having been promised for September, Ranawaka is making the case for not having a Tamil chief minister: he has already argued that the 13th amendment should be nullified (so that there will be no provincial council to hold elections to) and now he is arguing that such elections, if held, would be an injustice.
By his argument any election in Sri Lanka without the return of the estimated 300,000 Tamils who fled to Canada, 200,000 to the UK and lakhs to India and other parts of Europe would be a great injustice. The UPFA which has broken all democratic norms – most heinously by scaring judges from rendering independent judgments – can stay on in power forever without elections.
Presidents Andrew Jackson and Mahinda Rajapaksa
With the impeachment of our Chief Justice and the need to enforce and obey the judiciary’s rulings being denied in parliament, we are reaching the point where US President Andrew Jackson’s acerbic allusion to the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive no longer seems funny. Jackson was a crude military man to whom is wrongly but easily attributed the word OK by his detractors. It is said he would minute papers put to him by his aides with OK, thinking that “All Correct” is “Ole Kurrect.”
Early in nineteenth century US, the lands of Native Americans were being eroded by land-hungry Whites, just like Tamil lands today. Jackson used the army to throw out the Indians and take over millions of acres. Like in Mullivaikal, Jackson’s time was characterized by murder and pillage of powerless minorities.
The crisis came to a head in Georgia when the legislature claimed jurisdiction over the Indian tribes and their lands, and the Indians were forbidden from bringing suits against Whites. Similarly if our President has his way, soon our Supreme Court would routinely refuse leave to proceed on many fundamental rights cases. The government has got so arrogant that, according to the Daily Mirror (Dec. 4), it asked the Speaker to take action against UNP MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe for legally challenging the parliamentary process to impeach the Chief Justice.
In landmark judgements in 1831 and 1832, US Chief Justice John Marshall held that the relevant Georgia laws were “repugnant to the constitution.” But with Jackson’s blessings Georgians defied the Supreme Court decisions as in our parliament today.
This was when Jackson issued his defiant comment in constitutional thuggery: “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.” Here Parliament ignores requests of the Supreme Court which has no executive authority to enforce anything!
Living in twenty first century Sri Lanka, we are cruder than Jackson’s nineteenth century America. A murderous, pillaging government is making sophisticated use of the law in an utterly unethical but lawful misuse of constitutional provisions. With both presidents, despite their sanguinary records, their citizens are sanguinely defensive of them.