By A. Sivapathasundaram –
Need for Elucidation
Mr. C.V. Wigneswaran is no ordinary person: He is a retired Justice, fluent in all the three languages, Sinhalese, Tamil & English that are spoken in Sri Lanka, is patently religious and brought into politics from his retired life. Very soon after, and never of such privileged position accorded to anyone before, considered as ‘ new light’, a ‘new breeze’ and ‘new hope’ by a majority of Tamil voters in the North of Sri Lanka, he was directly elevated to the exalted political office as the Chief Minister of Northern Province (NP). He is also now the leader of Tamil People’s Alliance, a new political party formed by him in defiance of Tamil National Alliance (TNA)— the very party that pole-vaulted him into politics only a few years ago. Moreover, there is a certain section of the Tamils in the North and amongst the Diaspora who consider him and other politicians who support him, as their voice and the ones who would deliver the “political goods” they want.
Therefore, the contents of his article ‘Keppetipola Disawe & Solution to The Ethnic Question’, which appeared in ‘Colombo Telegraph’ recently, merits special attention and objective scrutiny for further elucidation either by him or by any of his ilk and political persuasions and stand. It is the hope and expectation that such elucidations, debate and discussion would lead to an objective re-assessment of Tamil politics, in order to pave a meaningful and realistic path for the attainment of the social, economic and cultural progress and prosperity of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, in the context of the changed national and international realities.
In his said article, the ex-Chief Minister of NP has started off with the story of ‘Keppetipola Disawe’ and “pre-independent days”. This part may be skipped, for, though they are of historical interest, most of the Sri Lankans are familiar with them, especially in regard to the events of the post-independence days, having been documented and repeated many times by many people.
What need specific elucidations are on those he had gone on to list as some matters among the many, in his words, “that could be enumerated to show how the Tamils are being discriminated and dominated by the Sinhalese” and his “Solution to the Ethnic Question”.
Justice C.V. Wigneswaran (for ease we shall use the abbreviation CVW when referring to him in this article) says “The Tamils of North and East feel the yoke of Sinhala hegemony today”
Not only the Tamils of the North & East, but also the Hill country Tamils and Muslims too, have felt the “yoke of Sinhala hegemony”, not just “today”, but for many long years and, in one way or the other, at various times since the time of independence. One may term it not just ‘Sinhala hegemony’, but ‘Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist hegemony’ that is completely contrary to the tenants of Buddhism and the noble teachings of Buddha. This “juggernaut” of ‘Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist hegemony’, comprises not the ordinary Sinhalese Buddhists who are, in general, simple, friendly, and peace-loving –-even more so than some of the Tamil brethren—but the elite chauvinists. It has, in different forms at various times, rolled on and on, setting one community against the other too as part of its vulgar strategy, when needed to achieve its purposes, thus destroying the peace, tranquillity, and prosperity of the country as a whole, It even tramples on the Sinhala Buddhists themselves by diverting their attention from the real socio economic issues that the lower strata of their own people are faced with, sowing and promoting contrived fear and anger in them, only to enrich the select few. The words of Mark Twain that “It is easier to fool the people than to convince them that they are being fooled” has been proved to be spot on and continue to be so.
However, what needs elucidation is how does CVW, or for that matter any Tamil leader, hope to confront this ‘juggernaut’ by explaining to the misled Sinhalese masses while also enlisting the other minority communities and leaders against its destructiveness.
Also, as CVW states, “Tamils want freedom”—but that ‘freedom’ is not only from the yoke of “Sinhala Buddhist hegemony” but also from the remnants of casteism and exploitation of the Tamils amongst themselves too.
However, people do not elect leaders to tell them a list of problems. Everyone knows the problems –some personally experiencing them and some see, hear, or feel them happening. On the contrary, people elect them to find solutions for those problems and, in addition, constructively commit and work towards those solutions. Therefore, one must ask what CVW himself, both as Justice and subsequently as Chief Minister of North, have done on these. Surely, issuing statements or reading scripted speeches or addressing meetings, and that too mostly attended by the Tamils (effectively an exercise in only “converting the already converted”), is not seeking solution!—It can only be termed as mere verbosity for popularity and a waste of time, energy and resources.
Colonisation & De-population
CVW further states “Earlier almost all the Tamils in the Southern areas were driven away during inter alia 1958 and 1983 pogroms. Now they intend colonising the North and East with Sinhalese”.
It is not “’now’ they ‘intend’ colonising the North and East with Sinhalese”: This process started long time ago—a grievance aired from the time following the formation of Tamil Federal Party. What has also escaped attention is that, while the Tamil leaders and activists were harping on ‘colonisation’ and “1958 and 1983 pogroms”, another shrewd and subtle process was put in operation by the said ‘juggernaut’: it is “De-population” of Tamils from North & East. It has master- minded the voluntary movement of Tamils by aiding and abetting their exodus from the soil of the North & East– particularly from the North. ‘Human traffickers’ have profited, and, it would appear that the Sri Lankan Airport officials, and the Security forces, some for monetary benefits, have knowingly allowed the out-flow of Tamils in large numbers from the airports, sometimes even knowing that they possess forged documents. The unnecessary and eventually fruitless and long-protracted war too has contributed to that process.
‘Colonisation’ and ‘De-population’ are the “two sides of the same coin” –effectively driving towards the achievement of the same purpose: ‘Colonisation’ is the process by which the Sinhalese are brought in bulk into the Tamil lands; whereas “De-population” is the process by which the Tamils are emptied from Tamil lands.
Though it is true that most of those who had thus migrated to other countries (except unfortunately those who went to Tamil Nadu and got stuck there) are doing economically well, by this process, the ‘juggernaut’ of the ‘Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinist hegemony’ which is constantly in motion and on mission have achieved the following:
- Tamils have vacated the Tamil lands.
- This has also the adverse impact in the demographic composition of the Tamils and reduced representation of Tamils in the Parliament.
- Some of the Security forces and the top notch of the Establishment have made large sums of money in the process of aiding the Tamils to leave.
- Reduced the problem of unemployment and increased the chances of Sinhalese getting jobs and running enterprises without competition from Tamils.
- Tamils have contributed to the Colombo economy in building or buying apartments there.
- There is a significant inflow of foreign exchange earnings into Sri Lanka from the Diaspora Tamils by remittances as well as tourism to the very country that they claim they had left because of harassment and tortures.
Military Camps & Military Dictatorship
It is true, as CVW asserts, there are “Military Camps are everywhere in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, manned by Sinhalese only”. —This is an unfortunate by-product of a protracted war that should have been ended seizing the many opportunities that came about— absence of which have resulted in an exponential increase in the security forces to the point of saturation and adding a lethal arsenal to that ‘juggernaut’. With the end of the war, the government, incapable of finding alternative employment for those if demobilised, had left the number same as at the end of war. Additionally, the glorification of the LTTE and the irresponsible talk about its resurgence and resurrection, albeit falsely, had been used by the government to justify the presence of the armed forces and the existence of camps in larger and disproportionate numbers in the North & East. The side comedy of the so called ‘Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam’ with a ‘Prime Minister’ and ‘Cabinet’ by a section of the Diaspora, not even recognised by the elected Tamil representatives on the ground in Sri Lanka, is not helpful either. And, with the Easter bomb attacks by Muslim extremists. it has added fuel to this justification of the wide-spread existence of military and their consequent involvement in civilian lives and administration and the forced upon “opening up of Buddhist places of worship”.
Also as a consequence, CVW rightly points out to the dangerous trend of the increased involvement of the Military in the civilian administration and business and commercial interests and Sri Lanka sliding into, in effect, a military run dictatorship, with only democracy in name.
In the Sri Lankan political landscape, there was once only the influence of two major parties, UNP & SLFP, with underlying ‘Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism’ determining the fate of the country. Now, with the massive build-up of the military apparatus, ‘military’ has become an important and indispensable factor of influence to additionally contend with. This trend spells disaster for Sri Lanka as a country and to all its people, irrespective of ethnicity –be it Sinhalese, Tamils, or Muslims.
CVW to say, “My prayer is, God save the Tamils”, may be to invoke what the leader of the Federal Party, SJV Chelvanayagam is reported to have uttered in desperation. But in this instance, it would have been more appropriate if CVW had said “God, save the country”. Nevertheless, CVW, being a religious person, may resort to prayer; but that cannot certainly be the solution.
Those right thinking amongst all the communities—irrespective of Sinhalese, Tamils, or Muslims– are very concerned and worried about this development and process which will end up in the degeneration of Sri Lanka into another Pakistan or Myanmar. Instead of merely stating the problem, one would like to have from him, as a leader and an intellectual and with the advantage of his fluency in Sinhalese, his plans and strategies to translate his concern into action by the mobilisation of the people and the civil societies of all the communities against this dangerous trend.
CVW then makes a frontal attack on the Buddhist Priests and the age of the Sinhalese language— thus himself smacking of chauvinism—and posing confrontationally “In any event what do Buddhist Priests know of our culture, history and language?”.
The disastrous consequences of the involvement of the Buddhist clergy in politics, members of which were even convicted in the assassination of a Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, is all too evident. Sri Lanka should heed to the emphatic pronouncement on religious personnel involving and meddling in politics by Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore as a nation who steered it from a poor and backward city into a developed first world country. Addressing directly, he said: “Churchmen, lay preachers, priests, monks, Muslim theologians, all those who claim divine sanction and holy insight , take off your clerical robes before you take on anything economic or politics”.
This is true for Sri Lanka too. —But, how does CVW think, as a Tamil and a Hindu, his attack of the Buddhist Priests and the Sinhalese language will help the Tamils in the attainment of their political aspirations? Surely, his legal mind would know that it can only be counterproductive. Whether one likes it or not, ‘Buddhist Priests’, rightly or wrongly, still wield a substantial respect and reverence, amongst the Sinhalese rural populace; and such verbosity will not any way help Tamils to attain their political aspirations; instead, it is an unthoughtful, irresponsible approach that can only contribute to the unfortunate situation of further cementing the Tamil- Sinhalese divide and enhancing the ill-perceived dislike of the Tamils by the Sinhalese.
Sinhalisation of North and East
CVW moans that “Many Hotels are now coming up run by the Sinhalese in the North and East”.
So are hotels and business establishments in Colombo and its suburbs and in some towns of North & East by the Tamils & Muslims too. If the entrepreneurship of the Tamil is limited, in its void, others of different ethnicity will naturally come to grab the opportunities in areas hitherto torn by war. His words smack of exclusivity based on ethnicity—the very accusation he levels against the Sinhalese.
One predominant weakness that the Tamils have is the lack of knowledge of Sinhalese, the language of their brethren. This is also furthering the polarisation and preventing an interaction with the Sinhalese common folk. One may therefore ask: Shouldn’t the Tamils be provided with the necessary facilities to study Sinhalese and become fluent in Sinhalese language? Muslims had the foresight of learning it and thereby enhancing and expanding their employment, business, and commercial enterprises, and yet maintaining their culture and identity intact.
To be Continued….