Colombo Telegraph

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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