By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
The two-part article by retired diplomat and former Ambassador Izeth Hussain (IH) published recently in the Colombo Telegraph makes very interesting reading and is thought provoking. (Read part one and two).There is much merit in his analysis and proposals. IH is spot on when he states “even though the LTTE is militarily no more, Eelam project is still on”. It’s propagation by some segments of the Tamil community, especially amongst Tamil diaspora groups overseas, its network of overseas offices utilizing front organizations and financial reserves is becoming exceedingly visible. Social media used by nameless and faceless contributors is one avenue to gauge aspirations / dreams of Eelamists and Eelam supporters. As stated by IH, it is not in the interest of the LTTE rump to permit a political solution short of a separate Eelam state or a de facto Eelam in the form of a confederal arrangement. The moderates in the TNA walk a tight rope. They need to retain the upper hand against Tamil extremists within the community while negotiating a meaningful and equitable deal for themselves, not an easy task in view of Sinhala extremists.
IH is also spot on in his assertion, Tamils after the military defeat of LTTE by government forces amounts to a defeated minority community, but for the external dimension of India. Besides the many occasions since early 1980s, events since 09 January 2015 is clear proof of IH’s theory. Prime Minister Nadendra Modi’s lecture on ‘cooperative federalism’ during his speech in the Sri Lankan Parliament, visiting Jaffna and addressing a public rally and meetings with TNA leaders are some such instances. A meeting was even held with a delegation of Upcountry Tamils from Democratic People’s Front and an invitation extended for a delegation to visit Delhi. Suffice to state, India would never permit the Prime Minister of Pakistan to visit India on a state visit, proceed to Kashmir and address a public gathering or permit meetings with Kashmiri leaders on its soil. Even the mention of Hurriyat Conference leaders meeting the Pakistan High Commissioner in Delhi results in India calling off scheduled bi-lateral discussions with Pakistan stating ‘talk to them or talk to us’.
On the issue of an Indian intervention in Sri Lanka, IH is indeed correct in stating it could result from acts by GoSL having serious security implications to India or else, an incident similar to 1983 pogroms which could result in a backlash in Tamil Nadu (even though India will never accept a similar involvement by Pakistan in Kashmir on behalf of their Muslim brethren). However, India would indeed think deep and hard in implementing such an arrangement perhaps similar to the arrangement in Cyprus, divided into Cyprus aligned to Greece and Turkish Cyprus loyal to Turkey. Ramifications of such a project are many, the most critical being, it could eventually transform into a project for a greater Eelam nation, encompassing Sri Lanka’s Northern and part of Eastern Provinces and Tamil Nadu.
In the concluding paragraph, IH opines “in India, over a hundred and seventy-five million Muslims have been living for the most part in peace, amity and cooperation with the Hindus since 1947 without any devolution for the Muslims”, attributing it mainly to India’s fully functioning democracy. He therefore recommends Sri Lanka emulate the model proven successful in India since 1947.
To begin with, the only state with a Muslim majority is Jammu & Kashmir which has been in turmoil since independence. It is the 20th largest state in India. It has a population of 12.5 million, roughly four times the size of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka. 68% are Muslims and 28% Hindus. Kashmiri is the most widely spoken language besides Dogri and Hindi. With half a million Indian security forces based in Jammu & Kashmir and laws much more restrictive than Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in force, if J&K would qualify as a part of a fully functioning democracy is debatable. Lakshadweep, an archipelago of thirty-six islands and a population less than 75,000 inhabitants has a Muslim majority. It is a Union Territory administered directly from Delhi and the language spoken is exclusively Malayalam.
India consists of a landmass of 3.2 million sq.kms with a population of 1.2 billion persons. It comprises of 30 states and 6 Union Territories. Indian states are divided on linguistic lines. As a result, each state recognizes the most commonly used national language (that of the majority community) in the state to conduct its business. For example, Tamil is the predominant language in Tamil Nadu. Tamils, non-Tamils, Hindus, Muslims and all others living in Tamil Nadu have to accept the Tamil language for state business, in courts, in schools etc. (English is used in superior courts and universities). For example, Telugu and Kannadi (majority languages in border states) as well as Urdu speaking Muslims living in Tamil Nadu have to adopt Tamil language. Their children will attend schools with Tamil language as the medium of instruction or private schools. They may use their mother tongue at home. In Tamil Nadu, the mother tongue of Sunni Muslims in Tamil and of Shia Muslims is Urdu. The mother tongue of Muslims in West Bengal is Bengali and in Jammu & Kashmir, it is Kashmiri. They may also have a knowledge of Urdu in view of religious scripts. On the other hand, a Tamil living outside Tamil Nadu even in border states such as Kerala has to adopt the language of the majority of that state (Malayalam).
Language wise, Hindi in 10 states, Bengali in 7 states and Gujarati in 3 states are the major languages. However, the 19 other national languages are state and secondary languages in different states depending on geographical locations.
Hinduism is the religion of 79.8% of India’s 1.2 billion population. Hindus are most numerous in 27 states/Union Territories. Religious minorities are spread across India as per below chart (refer chart 1). Figures indicated are percentages in terms of each state’s population.
India has been devoid of massive concentrations of a particular religious minority group in any one state or part of the country with the exception of Muslims in Jammu & Kashmir.
Thanks mainly to enlightened leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru who eschewed religious divide by promoting a constitution based on secularism, India after the horrors of 1947 partition, has largely managed to contain the Hindu Muslim divide with occasional upheavals. Freedom movements have erupted from time to time, such as for Khalistan and in Nagaland but have been managed with relative ease.
Sri Lanka consists of a landmass of 65,516 sq. kms with a population of 20.2 million persons. The origins of the initial three provinces in 1820s, increasing to five in 1833 and gradually to nine by 1889 was to suit the needs of a colonial administration rather than local needs. The five provinces which came into effect in 1833 would appear to be based on ethnic lines taking Low Country Sinhalese, Kandyan Sinhalese and Tamils into consideration.
In the event Tamils of Sri Lankan and Indian origin were to be merged, they would account for 15.4% of the population.
Of the Sri Lankan Muslim community, a further 24% live in the Western and 13.9% in the North Western Provinces. Of the Tamils of Indian origin community, 57.2% live in the Central, 18.3% in North Central and 12.3% in Sabaragamuwa provinces.
The Eastern province need special mention. From a population of 1.5 million, 23% are Sinhalese (2.3% of total Sinhalese), 39% Sri Lankan Tamils (26.8% of total SL Tamils) and 36.6% Muslims (30.4% of total Muslims).
Sri Lanka in size is smaller than the 17th largest state in India (Assam) and in population, amounts to 1.68% of India’s population. Sri Lanka’s total population of 20.2 million is numerically less than Hindus (966 mil), Muslims (172 mil), Christians (27.8 mil) and Sikhs 20.8mil) in India.
In the Indian format, the all-important subject of language has been satisfactorily addressed and is not a contentious issue. In Sri Lanka, the subject of language has been mishandled and is one of the most contentious issues.
In today’s context, it is not conceivable, 2.58% of Sinhalese population living in the Northern and Easter provinces would accept Tamil as their language. Neither will 29.6% Sri Lankan Tamils living in seven provinces accept Sinhala language as theirs.
Needless to say, had a division of provinces on linguistic lines and a language system similar to that of India been implemented within a decade of independence, implementation would have been possible. However, at this juncture, 68 years after independence, numerous race riots including 1983 pogroms, sense of injustices felt by the Tamil community, some justified and some unjustified, rise in Tamil nationalism and after a 30-year civil war, the suitability and possibility of adopting the Indian model in Sri Lanka, in this writer’s opinion is a virtual impossibility.
The ideal solution to the current impasse is a ‘One Country One People’ concept, sans any divide, ethnic, religious, caste or otherwise. Unfortunately, the mentality and attitudes of both Sinhalese and Tamils are not conducive for such a project. Two primary reasons contribute, one being the ‘foremost place for Buddhism’ enshrined in the constitution and the theory of a ‘traditional Tamil Home Land’. In a ‘One Country One People’ concept espousing secularism, no one ethnic or religious group can be superior or inferior to another. The Dhammapada, Bhagawath Gita, Bible and Quran need all be subordinate to the country’s constitution which need be secular and the instrument through which, peaceful coexistence of all communities need be facilitated. Similarly, no one community should claim any part of the country as their ‘traditional home land’. The claim by the Tamil community has no validity. 56% of the community lives outside the Northern Province. 26.4% live in the Eastern province and 29.6% live in seven other provinces. Based on the traditional Tamil Home Land concept, it can also be argued that 29.6% Sri Lankan Tamils are living in somebody else’s Traditional Home Land.
The whole nation including the Northern and Eastern provinces must essentially be shared by the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and other minorities.
Attempting to clone the Indian model at this juncture, rather than solving our problems would probably aggravate our problems.