27 October, 2020

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Great Betrayals And Building A Strong National Identity

By M.A. Sumanthiran

M. A. Sumanthiran MP

Speech in Parliament by M.A. Sumanthiran on 10th August 2012

Thank you sir,

I am glad to speak on this motion moved by the Hon. Member for Colombo and I am further glad to speak at the time when you are in the Chair, and quite unusually, after a speech in which you have said some things on which we can agree on.

The Hon. Member while moving the motion referred to the first Prime Minister Hon. D.S. Senanayake twice in his speech and sir, you also referred to the first Prime Minister. But I would like to remind this House that although it is true that at the time Independence was obtained all communities in this country jointly asked for Independence, got it and celebrated together, very soon the trust that the minorities reposed in the majority community of this country was broken, and that was broken by the D.S. Senanayake Government.

One of the first few pieces of legislation that was passed disenfranchised over eight hundred thousand Tamils of recent Indian origin, and it took another forty years before they could regain the fundamental right, the basic right of belonging to this country, that of their franchise. That was a great betrayal. That was a betrayal using the larger numbers that obtained to the majority community. That was the issue that brought my party into existence. The Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi was born as a result of the disenfranchisement of Tamils of recent Indian origin. Then it was realized that our euphoria of independence was very short lived; that we could not continue to repose our faith in a simple majoritarian system of government because there will always be a permanent majority, and there will be permanent minorities, and on issues that affect the demography, the permanent majority will always prevail.

This was repeated in 1956 when the Sinhala language was made the official language of this country. Hon. Dr. Colvin R. De Silva speaking in this House at that time said ‘You have two languages, you will have one country; but if you have one language, you will have two countries’. What prophetic words. Yet he himself was the architect of the 1972 Constitution in which Sinhala was made the only Official language constitutionally. There was a safeguard built into the Ceylon Independence Act of 1947 in Section 29(4). It was a most ineffective clause. At the time if anybody wanted to know examples of legislation it would prevent, the Indo-Pakistani Citizenship Act and the Official Languages Act could have been given as examples of legislation that was prohibited under Section 29(4). Yet it was passed. Although it was ineffective it was there in writing. A principle was enshrined through that clause. It was entrenched. It was a clause that could not be changed. That is why, under the guise of an autochthonous Constitution in 1972 – between 1970 and 1972 sitting outside the Parliament – the First Republican Constitution was enacted in which the views or the participation of the Tamil People of this Country was totally rejected. We know the consequences of that.

No one opposes a strong national identity, but there are two basic elements that go into building a strong national identity. The first is that all must be treated equally irrespective of which community they belong to. That is emphasised, sometimes over emphasised. Because the second cardinal principle is equal to the first one, and that is that you can’t build one strong identity by suppressing the different individual identities.

It is only by recognizing those separate identities, it is only by granting to the separate identities of the separate Peoples in this country the due recognition and the honour, the dignity that is due to those Peoples, that you can build one strong identity. That is something that we keep forgetting, and we don’t seem to be conscious of even today.

References were made to our great neighbour India. How has India preserved the identity of India? Right from its inception, from its birth, they carved out the linguistic states of India. It is the concept of the linguistic states that has prevented India disintegrating. Because people of different languages, different cultures, can have a sense of identity. They can express themselves in their own language, in their own culture. They are not asked to assimilate, they are not asked to deny what belongs to them, they are not asked to deny who they are and become part of another community in the name of a strong national identity.

This is where we have gone wrong and we continue to go wrong. After more than sixty years, we don’t seem to have got this right. When you spoke sir, you spoke about the Constitution and violation of the Constitution. There are several provisions in our Constitution that are not implemented, even by this Government of which you are a part. There is the 13th Amendment. Like section 29(4) of the Soulbury Constitution, however ineffective it is, still it is there in print. There is a system of power sharing. It is that very amendment, the 13th Amendment, that is not implemented. Those who speak about violation of other provisions of the Constitution turn a blind eye to the blatant violation by successive governments in not implementing provisions of the Constitution. For twenty five years now, that has remained a dead letter. Does the Government have a moral right even to raise the issue of supposed violations of the Constitution when there isn’t even one, whilst they themselves openly and blatantly violate provisions of the Constitution by not implementing them, and by not implementing the most crucial provisions of power sharing between communities that can build a sense of belonging to those communities to the country and thereby build a strong national identity?

So building a strong national identity has to happen voluntarily. Peoples who are numerically inferior in the country must themselves feel that they are a part of this country and come forward to building that one strong national identity. It can’t be forced down their throat. It never can be forced down their throat. If the majority people think that by force, by law, by compelling, by denying the other identities, one can build a strong national identity, they are sadly mistaken. That will never happen. It is only by recognizing, it is only by granting, it is only by honouring the dignity of all the different peoples of this country such a process can take place and as a representative of the Tamil peoples of this country let me assure this House that we are willing to participate in that process of building one national identity, but we will do that when we are recognized as a People and all that is due to a People is granted, and afforded. When we can have a measure of self governance that is due to a People, we will also stand equally with the majority community and strive towards one national identity.

Thank you very much.

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Latest comments

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    If English was official language and Sinhalese and Tamil were national language, there would not be any civil war in Sri Lanka. There is Sri Lankan identity now and Sri Lankan had to grab many oppertunies before Singapore. When we consider singapore, English is only official language and Maly , Chinese and Tamil are national language. Now Sri Lanka has two official language and it is fine. I think we should promote English also as a official language. Then, Sri Lankan can grab many oppertunities in the world.

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      This speech is historically dodgy for the fact is that the Ceylon Tamil politicians wanted the Indian Tamils disenfranchised and encouraged the Sinhalas racist politicians to due so, because of their caste-istm and snobbery. Lets get the facts right Mr. Sumanthiran! You TNA folk need to look inward before indulging in the blame game while acting like absentee landlords vis-a-vis your voters in the north!
      Shame on you for all the half truth and political games!

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        Indiana Jones, there is nothing dodgy in this great speech. It is your attempt to distort facts is what is dodgy. It is not all Tamil Leaders who voted with the Sinhalese govt. to disenfranchise the Indian Estate Tamils. Thanks to your like minded people who parade as the know all, distorting facts who have wraught havoc to this nation. As Sumanthiran states there will never be a strong National Identity for this Nation as long as we Sinhalese play truant with the Ethnic Issue.

  • 0
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    Good speech by Sumanthiran.. Many home truths.
    Now a Tamil MP like Kadirgamar or Neelan Thiruchelvam can never imagine to give a speech like that.
    This is another reason, why I was one of the few or only Tamil other than close family, attending Lakshman Kadirgamar’s funeral 7 years ago.

    No Tamils speak well of Kadirgamar or Neelan in private or public. lol.
    Quote from Sumanthiran’s speech.

    It never can be forced down their throat. If the majority people think that by force, by law, by compelling, by denying the other identities, one can build a strong national identity, they are sadly mistaken. That will never happen. It is only by recognizing, it is only by granting, it is only by honouring the dignity of all the different peoples of this country such a process can take place ……………….

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      Brilliant speech by Sumanthiran as always. If only Sri Lanka would take time to listen to the truth that you can trust Sumanthiran to speak. It certainly questions the sincerity of the long term goals of building national identity that ‘the other side’ have the power to implement but only mention every so often to keep things going for their own benefit.
      But when reading such a composition, lets not go into unnecessary details that may be personal to yourself, that distract from the essence of this composition.
      *Incidently I do happen to belong to the extended family of Kadirgamar and know that more than just yourself as a tamil attended the funeral!

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    EVERY SRI LANKAN CITIZEN SHOULD VOLUNTARILY LEARN TO SPEAK, WRITE, AND READ SINHALESE, TAMIL, ENGLISH AND ARABIC LANGUAUES. THIS SHOULD START AT SCHOOL AS CORE SUBJECTS. ONLY THEN WE WILL HAVE PEACE AND HARMONY IN OUR BEAUTIFUL ISLAND PARADISE.

    • 0
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      Desilva says:

      “EVERY SRI LANKAN CITIZEN SHOULD VOLUNTARILY LEARN TO SPEAK, WRITE, AND READ SINHALESE, TAMIL, ENGLISH AND ARABIC LANGUAUES.”

      Why Arabic?

      Why not Vedda language?

    • 0
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      Desilva,
      Not Arabic. All muslims speak tamil.It is their mother tongue.
      English should be made the languge of education/instruction.All students must learn english and the mother tongue – sinhala or tamil – from kinder garten. From O Level, only english. Then we will produce scientists,engineers,doctors etc. of good caliber.This is what is needed.
      The rich and the politicians know this, and their children attend “international schools” preparing for further studies abroad.
      Ask any parent – all want english education for their children.

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    AT PRESENT THE ETHNICITY IS MEASURED BY NUMERICS. THIS SHOULD BE CHANGED AND BE MEASURED BY INTELLECT. THEN, WE WILL SEE OUR PARLIAMENT IS FULL OF CANDIDATES WHO ARE INTELECTUALLY DERANGED ETHNIC MINORITY.

    • 0
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      Desilva

      is being sarcastic:

      “THEN, WE WILL SEE OUR PARLIAMENT IS FULL OF CANDIDATES WHO ARE INTELECTUALLY DERANGED ETHNIC MINORITY.”

      What do mean?

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    Idealistically no one can disaggree with the sentiments he has expressed. He fails though to touch upon the communal politics of Tamil leaders, at least beginning with 1931 at the introduction of universal franchise. One should appreciate even at this stage that if the majority was overzealous about their own rights it was because they were the foremost wictims of colonialasm and its divide and rule tactics. He conveniently fail to mention that G.G.Ponnambalam an ardent Tamil communalist voted with the government to disenfranchise the people of recent Indian origin. Lest the Tamils understood the aspirations of the Sinhala majority also instead of repeating one sided and archaic rhetoric, easier it will be for them to co-exist inaalienably as equal citizens.

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      Chandra

      must be joking:

      “One should appreciate even at this stage that if the majority was overzealous about their own rights it was because they were the foremost wictims of colonialasm”

      Have you factored in 2’500 years history of Sinhala and Tamil colonialism in my ancestral land?

      Please be honest and serious about the island history. You chose to retain a short term memory of colonisation while we suffer from long term colonisation by both stupid Sinhalese and stupid Tamils.

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      Chandra, it is not only the Tamil Leaders played the Communal card, but also the Sinhalese Political Leaders of all Political hue. As for your allegation the British played a devide and rule game, I wonder! as all those who gained recognition in the system had the necessary educational qualifications. Can you state any such incident of favouritism of the Tamils over the Sinhalese. For your information the greatest Ceylonese ever, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan a Barrister in comparison to the so called Father of the Nation, DS Senanayake who had no Educational qualifications to boast of, was accepted by the Tamils as the PM and the British as well. Now if the British devided and ruled they would have preferred a qualified person in preference to a non qualified and would not have recognised DS Senanayake as the leader to take over. The truth is, it is not the British who devided and ruled but the Sinhalese Politicians who came after.

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        Gamini

        Please read:

        Ethnic Representation in Ceylon’s Higher Administrative Services, 1870-1946

        http://www.dlib.pdn.ac.lk:8080/jspui/handle/123456789/1304

        There is a huge difference between truth and perception propagated Sinhala/Buddhists. The above paper dispelled all lies in the late 1950s about favouritism colonial masters.

        On the other hand one cannot deny that high caste higher class elites on both sides benefited from colonialism at the costs of people of the whole island.

        Chandra and his/her fellow travelers should be throwing some hard fact to justify their hypothesis which is not forthcoming. As usual when you challenge them there would be deafening silence for ever.

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          Native, what are you trying to do? Now the MR goons might set the Peradeniya Library also on fire to destroy all evidence of the Truth.

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    Sumanthiran says Tamils must be made to feel and identify themselves as equal citizens. He wants Tamils to be recognised as a “People”. Under international law, right to self determination is inherent in “People”. What Sumanthiran wants is the recognition that Tamils have an inherent right to self determination. He is simply reiterating the Thimpu principles accepted by all the Tamil parties as the basis for any resolution of the SL Tamil problem. He will have to go a long way to convince the Sinhalase to acknowledge that Tamils have the right to self-determination. One positive for Sumanthiran is that being a Colombo resident and as one conversant in all three languages he is better placed to build a bridge between the Tamils and Sinhalese. Unlike several of his TNA colleagues from the North East he is not fanatically anti-Sinhalese.

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    Gamini

    The Sinhala/Buddhist nationalists always campaigned the colonial powers favoured Tamils in education and employment in the clerical and administrative services of Ceylon.

    The above paper by S J Thambiah busted the myth.

    All though I am bit thick I love books and libraries. So you are rest assured that I am willing to defend the libraries.

    By the way long time ago I was told some of the books taken away from Jaffna library were being stored somewhere in the South by a leading UNP politician who was a prominent member in the North Western Provincial Council.

    Do you know anything about it?

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      I knew very closely the Mahaweli party who was accused. Then again there were other hidden hands. I can not say for certain whether the priceless books have been stashed away. One thing by burning people or books cannot erase history. Stupid mindsets indeed.

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        gamini confirms:

        “One thing by burning people or books cannot erase history. Stupid mindsets indeed.”

        So you are in agreement with me that Tamils and Sinhalese are born stupids.

        • 0
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          Native, you need two hands to clap. Just because some are stupids, does not mean that all are. All Laws have exceptions.

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