22 October, 2017

India’s Vicarious Involvement In Sri Lanka’s ‘Tamil Question’ – Merger Of North & East Or Not

By Vishwamithra1984

Man is like a rope: both break at a definite strain…the solution is not splicing the rope; it’s lessening the tension.” ~Jack Vance

We may need India’s backing in the international arena in time to come. We may need India’s help to persuade the more extreme elements in the Tamil leadership community to adhere to this and reject that. We may need India’s support to sustain a more enduring peace, not as it is today- a mere absence of war and militancy- we might even need India’s whole-hearted patronage to convince the world leaders not to interfere with our internal political matters at all. Yet when, as per Indian Express of February 20, 2017, India’s Foreign Secretary states that ‘India will not be pressing Sri Lanka to merge the Northern and Eastern Provinces to form a single Tamil-majority, Tamil-speaking province as envisaged by the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987’, India has willy-nilly assured Sri Lanka and its Muslim community some lasting respite- that the ‘merger issue’, as it is called now, would be in the back burner, at least for some time.

The Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord was signed in Colombo on 29 July 1987 between Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J. R. Jayewardene. The primary purpose of the Accord was to resolve the Sri Lankan Civil War by enabling the thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka and the Provincial Councils Act of 1987. While its opponents condemned the Accord as a sell-out to the Indian-backed Tamils and their militant leaders, its supporters promulgated that it was the bedrock on which the whole socio-ethnic relations rested. Among the significant points of the agreement, the Sri Lankan Government made a number of concessions to Tamil demands, which included, among others, devolution of power from Colombo to the provinces, merger (subject to later referendum) of the northern and eastern provinces and official status for the Tamil language.

What irked most of the Sinhala chauvinists was the merger, not proposed but which became a fait accompli after the signatures of Gandhi and Jayewardene were placed, between the Northern and Eastern provinces into one. Although it was worded as subject to a referendum to be held later only in the Eastern Province, the pronouncement of the merger held stood between these two provinces as from the date the Accord was signed.

R. Hariharan writing a column to The Hindu in July 2010, almost exactly after one year after the crushing blow dealt to the Tamil militants led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) and Prabhakaran, opines thus: ‘The Rajiv-Jayewardene Accord was perhaps too ambitious in its scope as it sought to collectively address all the three contentious issues between India and Sri Lanka: strategic interests, people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka and Tamil minority rights in Sri Lanka. Its success depended on sustained political support from both the countries. So the Accord got sidelined when political leaders who were unhappy with the Accord came to power in both countries almost at the same time. As a result, the Tamil minorities, who had put their faith in it, were in limbo. These unsavory developments have clouded the understanding of the positive aspects of the Accord. After all, it was the Accord that enabled Sri Lankan Tamils to gain recognition for some of their demands in Sri Lankan politics and in the Sri Lankan Constitution.

A lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge since Hariharan wrote his piece. It is eight years since the end of the war for Sri Lanka. The political leadership in Sri Lanka has changed from one of family-driven to more dilute among non-family members. Yet the Joint Opposition whose only raison d’être seems to be the protection and safeguarding of their loot, once again is raising the racial cry. Race and religion, as against any other social factor, have collectively determined the course any country takes in order to preserve its sovereignty on the one hand and the kind of government it wants to have on the other. It is in this context that the merger-issue needs more and more attention from our leaders. However unpalatable for the Tamil leadership, demerger of the North and East should remain off the table. Merger of the North and East is not negotiable as much as a separate state of Elam was.

The Tamil leadership in Sri Lanka cannot and should not disregard the overwhelming numbers and their influence of the Muslim population in the East. A merger of these two provinces would give the Tamils in the North a decided advantage and hereby subjugate a people, Muslims, who have been living among the Sinhalese areas as cohabitants for centuries. The leadership of the Muslim communities from pre-Independence ear to date have been embedded in our national issues, from the schools takeover to economic suppression to getting rid of a would-be-dictatorial rule of the Rajapaksa family. The Muslim community’s involvement at the grassroots level is total and their marriage at the level of politics supersedes that which came from the Tamils.

Nevertheless, the current leadership of the Tamils, as it is ostensibly limited to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), is mainly represented by Sampanthan at the center and Wigneswaran in the Northern Province. More often than not, both Sampanthan and Wigneswaran seem to be at loggerheads. They might be united under the banner of the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces, but the narratives that cascade form the respective lips tend to go in different directions. Wignesvaran seems to adopt a more belligerent stance and Sampanthan is opting for a more diplomatic path.

In the meantime, both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, as opposed to the leaders of the previous regime, are fervently trying to float a reconciliation-oriented policy between the two peoples and their leaderships. One great advantage of the success at the last Presidential Election of Maithripala Sirisena is this great proactive stance taken by President Sirisena who is more akin to Chandrika Kumaratunga than the nationalist Rajapaksas. Treading dangerously along this reconciliation path is not enough. The danger dwells in its un-appealability to the self-driven emotions of the majority Sinhalese Buddhists. Convincing the Tamil leadership on the unsuitability and futility of a merger between the North and East coupled with maintaining extremely profound and sincere relationship with the Muslim leadership are a twofold path the current Sinhalese leadership has to follow.

We are today In the midst of pitiful statements and articles by ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa. So far only Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has responded convincingly and compellingly to these ludicrous utterances of Rajapaksa. However, it is in the earnest and vested interests of the Rajapaksas and their cohorts to paint a picture of appeasing regime; as a regime that has no inner strength to forcefully segregate the Tamils from mainstream Sri Lanka. The word ‘segregation’ has not entered into the local vocabulary in the context of racial relationships. But it is a word that must be used in all our communications and narratives.

In 1963, June, American President John Kennedy made his famous ‘Civil Rights Address’. Some parts of that speech still resonate today: “This is one country. It has become one country because all of us and all the people who came here had an equal chance to develop their talents. We cannot say to ten percent of the population that you can’t have that right; that your children cannot have the chance to develop whatever talents they have; that the only way that they are going to get their rights is to go in the street and demonstrate. I think we owe them and we owe ourselves a better country than that”.

The lesson that we Sri Lankans, especially Sinhalese Buddhists, need to take is that although the Northern Tamils account for less than 10%, they have the same rights that any Sinhalese Buddhists who constitute nearly 70% of the population have. If we cannot safeguard the rights of a smaller number we simply cannot safeguard the rights of a larger number. It may be extremely difficult to drive in such positive social dynamic down the throats of a segment of our society who have been conditioned over the centuries on negative bases by those political leaders who have been on the fringes of social thinking. But those fringes became the mainstream after 1956. That is another reality we have to deal with today, not tomorrow or day after, but today.

*The writer can be contacted at vishwamithra1984@gmail.com 

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Latest comments

  • 8
    1

    Once again a sensible study of the Sinhala-Tamil issue by a liberal scholar rising above ethnic prejudice, reminiscent of the brilliance and class of Tisaranee G. In openly jettisoning the insistence of the emotionalist Separate State or nothing demand the TNA has entered the give-and-take path. The Sinhala side, including the majority Sinhala government has hardly followed suit. To learn that majority Tamils in Trinco have to file their legal papers in the Courts in the District in Sinhala is hardly the language of peace and reconciliation.
    India has succeeded in persuading the TNA – and, therefore, the Tamil Nation – to forget the de-merger is a victory for the Sinhala side. More needs to emerge from a united Sinhala consensus if another spillover to hostilities from the more belligerent youth in the Tamil side is to be averted. The Muslim obstacles are nothing but a red herring created by extremists in the Sinhala side. They can be persuaded to reasonable levesls if only both main Sinhala-Tamil sides agree to go forward.

    R.Varathan

    • 7
      0

      When you try to convince Tamils that north east merger is unsuitable and futile, you must give them concrete reasons, not just Sinhalese and Muslims do not like it. Similarly the merger of Tamil Kingdom with rest of the country effected by British without the consent of Tamil has over the proved both unsuitable and futile, as evidenced by the animosity that exists between Sinhalese and Tamils. Therefore on the same token, is it not prudent to de-merge Tamil Kingdom which had its boundaries from north of Mahaveli river in Trincomalee district through the entire northern province to north of Deduru Oya in Puttalam district. You cannot have double standards in dealing with issues. If Srilanka cannot be divided Tamil homelands of northern and eastern provinces also cannot be divided. How can the rights of Tamils in eastern province who had lived there for more than 2000 years be ignored to satisfy the unreasonable demands of Muslims who went there as refugees 400 years ago and bulk of the Sinhalese who had been settled there less than 100 years ago. India can say anything to please Sinhalese and Muslims for its own selfish agenda, but will it succeed in convincing Tamils to drop their legitimate demand of a north-east merger. Tamils have already moderated their stand by dropping independence as well as agreeing to consider devolution under a unitary constitution, provided that substantial powers are devolved and that there will be no interference by the Sinhala dominated central government. Therefore to shift the goal post further in asking Tamils to drop north east merger is grossly unfair. The main reason for the demand for north-east merger is due to the insecurity felt by Tamils due to recent past experience of being at the receiving end of violence unleashed by Sinhalese and Muslims. I feel that if the ethnic balance in east is restored as before ethnic cleansing of Tamils took place, to bring back the Tamil majority of 60% in the province, with Tamil majority rule, then this demand for a merger may become redundant. To make a blanket decision to keep provinces separately without addressing the concerns of Tamils will not bring peace, as injustice suffered by Tamils under Sinhala rule needs to be corrected to deliver justice.

      • 4
        0

        Strange these Tamil Muslim immigrants from South India, who came to the east a few centuries ago seeking asylum and refuge from the eastern Tamils( with whom they share a common language culture and ethnicity) from Portuguese and Sinhalese persecution now are making unreasonable demands and do not want to live with the very same Tamils who gave them refuge in the first place and are in cohorts with the Sinhalese settlers who only arrived in the east, after independence. However in the Sinhalese south, where around 72% of them live , they do not make these sort of unreasonable demands for Muslim enclaves or state they cannot live amicably with the Sinhalese, with whom, they do not share anything, EG; Language culture or ethnicity.
        In the south they have been at the receiving end of Sinhalese violence many times, however in the east they had joined Sinhalese racists armed forces and settlers and committed violence against the indigenous eastern Tamils, to whom the east really belongs. Shows that they are a bunch of ungrateful self centred selfish opportunists, who at any cost want to steal land and establish a homeland for their immigrant fake Arab South Indian community. They cannot do this with the Sinhalese, as they feel they are too powerful and are afraid of their might but feel the eastern Tamils or for that matter all Tamils are weak and sense an opportunity to steal land from the very same people who gave them refuge. A common language culture or shared ethnicity is not important to them. They have been now brainwashed to believe only their religion and the Arab culture is important and should be protected at all cost. This is one of the reasons many people are vary of Muslim refugees, as they all know they are humble grateful refugees for the first generation, however once established the story is different, wait for an opportunity to take over the land from the original inhabitants. If they can do the same to their fellow non Muslims Tamils in the east, what else will they do to the rest. Look at Iraq and Syria they leave alone killing the Kurds, Christian Arabs and others but they kill their fellow Muslim Arabs in the name of religious ideology.

    • 0
      0

      Due to state sponsored colonization and forced land encroachment resulted in this state of affairs in trincomalee district; Pl note this https://www.academia.edu/28282015/Demographic_Changes_in_Trincomalee_District
      Pleas open the link to view the graph.

  • 7
    1

    Vishwamithra1984

    Thanks for the enlightening piece of writing.

    How do you propose to drive your message (final paragraph) into neo-smart ass patriots’ heads?

  • 0
    2

    Hypothetically, the North and east can be merged if the Moor and Sinhala areas are de-merged from the respective districts. But this may not be practical as I initially hoped. According to the 2012 census Norther province (NP) constitutes almost 94% Tamil. Now this does not apply to the Eastern Province (EP).

    Data from 2012 Census (rounding error +/- 0.5%)

    Trincomalee (Moor – 41%, Tamil – 32%, Sinhala – 27%)
    Batticaloa (Tamil – 73%, Moor – 26%, Sinhala – 1%)
    Ampara (Moor – 44%, Sinhala – 39%, Tamil – 17%)

    Batticaloa district can be easily integrated with the Northern province. But when it comes to the other 2 districts, it is a real mess.

    Population distribution – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Sri_Lanka#/media/File:Sri_Lanka_-_Ethnicity_2012.png
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c4/Distribution_of_Languages_and_Religious_groups_of_Sri_Lanka_1981.jpg

    There doesn’t seem to be any effective way of splitting the Trincomalee and Ampara districts.

    The provinces with highest distribution for a single ethnic group are:
    Southern – +94% Sinhala
    Northern – ~94% Tamil
    North Central – ~90% Sinhala

    In-contrast the EP has the most balanced distribution among the ethnic groups.

    The other thing is, what about the Tamils living outside of the NE? There are about 2.3 milllion Native Tamils in SL. About the 1.6 million of them live in the NE. Thats around 70%. There are about 850,000 Indian Tamils and only a fraction of them live in the NE.

    The new constitution will have to take into account many complexities. I have yet to see our politicians present a comprehensive plan for all ethnic groups in SL. The foot dragging by the “Yahapalanaya” govt is only going to increase the frustration especially among the Northern Tamils. At least we must acknowledge that the NP is very homogeneous and Land, Police and Financial powers should be devolved to the NP. The EP is complicated but I don’t see any problem with giving the NP a special status.

    • 7
      0

      There are ways to split Trincomalee and Amparai districts. Do not give credit to ethnic cleansing of Tamils that had been going on since Independence and re-demarcate eastern province.Remove Amparai electorate and Lahugala and perhaps Kumana AGA divisions from Amparai district and link them to Uva Province. This will take almost all Sinhalese in present Amparai district out of the province. From the rest of Amparai district, demarcate Traditional Tamil areas together with their cattle gracing grounds, and give rest of the Amparai district to Muslims. In Trincomalee, remove Gomarankadawela and perhaps Padaviya AGA divisions and link them to Anuradhpura district. This will take traditional Sinhala areas (not colonized or ethnically cleansed areas) out of eastern province. Demarcate a contiguous area of Tampalgamam, Kinniya and west Mutur AGA divisions and give it to Muslims. Rest of Trincomalee district will be under Tamils. Sinhalese who were only 2% in Trincomalee district before planned ethnic alteration took place, cannot call this unfair. In Batticaloa district, Kattankudi, Eravur and Ottumavadi AGA divisions could be given to Muslims and rest given to Tamils. Then the Tamil areas in east can decide whether they wish to stay separate or merge with north.

      • 3
        0

        It would be very helpful if you can create a colored map of SL using the options you have provided. It is much easier to communicate visually.

        Regarding ethnic cleansing? Off-course it has to be taken into account. All who have been cleansed/ displaced must be taken into account with respect to their original/traditional homeland regardless of their ethnicity.

        Regarding the post independence Sinhala colonization? By now some of those families would be in their 2nd or maybe even 3rd generation. Simply disregarding them is not going help and could be used by extremists to cause trouble.

        • 4
          0

          I agree with you that disregarding second or third generation of Sinhalese in eastern province should be counter productive. But this principle was not adhered to in 1948 due to protest by Sinhalese that Indian Tamils are representing their areas, when despite these Tamils had been living in those areas for more than 100 years, were first disenfranchised and later half of them were deported. If the Sinhalese in eastern province are given land and money to settle in their original places this problem can be solved. If Sinhalese from south who had never lived in Jaffna before are willing to settle in Jaffna, I do not think why they should refuse to relocate to their original villages, unless of course they are part and parcel of a racist agenda to deny Tamils their right to land.

          • 1
            0

            There is no denying of the crimes committed against Tamils be it Native Tamils or Indian Tamils. The Indian Tamils may have been brought here by the British from the early 1800s but now there have been here for almost 200 years. They are NOT Indian they are Sri Lankan. Them being disenfranchised was literally a crime against humanity. Now those Indian origin Tamils should also have the right to determine their own affairs in an expanded Nuwara Eliya area if they so wish to. This should apply to the Eastern Sinhalese who were put their through state sponsored colonization also referred to as Sinhalization. The eastern province is now their home and their voice will have to be considered. Relocating them to the south will be an absolute nightmare unless China is willing pour billions of dollars for a new colony in the south.

            But I must say, I do agree with D.B.S. Jeyaraj in his article about “Hidden Agenda for Demographic Change in Trincomalee”- http://www.sangam.org/2007/10/Demographic_Change.php?print=true

            He says his criticism of the Demographic changes in the Tamil majority areas is not based on the traditional homeland theory or due to opposition to Sinhala people relocating to Tamil areas. It is against the state sponsored colonization, where the state directly, deliberately upsetting the natural population balance.

            Now I live in Dehiwala and there are plenty of Tamil neighbors around me. When a Tamil child is born in Dehiwala, that is his/her homeland not somewhere else and no Sinhala extremist can ever deny the right of that child to claim Dehiwala as their homeland.

        • 3
          0

          No one wants to disregard them or ask them to move but they will have to accept the fact that they are beneficiaries of ethnic cleansing activities that only occurred in most cases around 40 years ago ( therefore will not be even in the second generation), where thousands of Tamils were chased out of their lands and Sinhalese from the south brought in and settled to deliberately change the demography and accept the fact that they are living in Tamil lands and be part of it. just like the way Tamils who live in the south accept the fact that they are living in historic Sinhalese areas and do not clamour for separate Tamil/Muslim enclaves. Muslims of course are another story they only clamour for Islamic enclaves in Tamil areas despite a shared language culture and ethnicity but not in Sinhalese areas, fearing state sponsored repercussions.

  • 2
    1

    Vishwamithra,

    well said! but How?

    it looks very academic.

    we have an opening in the formulation of the new constitution,it is an opportunity,but how to make use of it
    in a constructive manner otherwise it will turn out to be another missed opportunity.

    • 0
      0

      S.K

      Briefly how do you propose to address the political rights of Tamils (Tamil speaking people) living among the Sinhalese in the new constitution?

      Soma

      • 2
        0

        somaaaas

        “Briefly how do you propose to address the political rights of Tamils (Tamil speaking people) living among the Sinhalese in the new constitution?”

        By relocating all members of noisy minority the Sinhala/Buddhists to their promised land a Sinhala/Buddhist ghetto in the deep south 10 square miles in area. You are rest assured you will be caught and expelled to your new ghetto.

  • 7
    0

    The merger of the Northern and Eastern Province is based on a Historical necessity.

    Hugh Cleghorn, the first colonial Secretary,to the British Governor in 1979 had this to say….

    Two different nations,from a very ancient period,had divided between them the possession of the Island. First the Sinhalese inhabiting the interior of the country,in its southern and western parts,from the river Wallowe to that of Chilaw,and secondly the Malabars[Tamils] who posses the Northern and Eastern Districts. These two nations differ entirely in their religions,language and manners….

    If the Indians are not pushing for this merger,founded on Historical foundations and if the Muslims are happy,as a result of this then you could be sure that the Indians have a card up their sleeve!

    • 0
      4

      The merger of the Northern and Eastern Province is based on a Historical necessity.

      There is not historical necessisity. It is only because, Tamil are stateless and they have two provinces and one in India and one in Malaysia.

      Sri lanka should be come the CUBA in the East.

      Fix chinese missiles all around the Island and make it a harakiri operation..Target Tamilnadu with every missile. If something goes wrong Tamilnadu will be history.

      It is Rama-Ravana war all out. but, this time, Tamil are finished.

  • 1
    2

    The whole purpose of the writer as well as the commentators is to ACCENTUATE the ethnic and religious differences and then discuss ‘rights’ based on those differences. This agenda will only ACCENTUATE the existing disharmony.

    How do you address the rights of minorities within minorities?

    Groups who claim to be different from others based on their religion cannot be given any special recognition in this day and age.

    Say NO to all these differences as there is end to further and further sub divisions.

    From a geopolitical perspective Sinhalese are the minority.

    Soma

    • 5
      0

      somaaasss

      “From a geopolitical perspective Sinhalese are the minority.”

      How long did it take you to work it out? That is one reason why you should not and cannot let Gota and MR to gloat about the war victory forever.

      As long as you understand the limitations imposed on Sinhalese by their size you are safe without any of your additional machination and false pride.

      Rest assured you will be safe only in Sri Lanka and not in your Sinhala/Buddhist ghetto.

      However, if you are desperate to build a separate Sinhala/Buddhist ghetto, just me I am right behind you.

  • 0
    4

    vishavamithra:

    YOu are an stupid idiot.

    Why Sri lanka should think about what HAriharan talked, What Kennedy talked. they all about their interests.

    where are the sinhala dick-less politicians.

    At the present time, most vocal politicians are dickless.

    The previous one who could do something forr Sri lanka was a theif and a gang leader.

    • 2
      1

      Jimmy,
      You want a united Sri Lanka, right? OK, here is the solution, guaranteed 100 %:
      1 Dissolve Parliament. Get rid of all the dickless politicians.
      2. Install the TGTE in Diyawanna.
      3.Let only Tamils be Ministers. They are smarter than Sinhalese.
      4.Rename the country as SINHALA EELAM.
      Got it? Cheers!

  • 3
    0

    INorth East merger never be a issue. Banda-Chelva pact and dudley-Chelva pact were considered North East as a homeland for Tamils which was the reality long before British created Provinces and merged all together. Jaffna kingdom was not myth and it was a real kingdom. The equal rights under a unitary system will never happen.

  • 0
    0

    All the Tamils in the South will be moved North and East from traditional Sinhala homelands in this tri-way division of Autonomous regions ? how can Tamils get exclusivity in the North but have diversity in the South including Colombo, Kandy etc? Will this be like the Pakistan-India partition. You know as soon as North gets autonomy they will pass land laws to kick sinhalese and moors out right?

    • 3
      0

      Good and all Muslims in the north east should be removed to South India, from where they came from or to the Sinhalese south as they love to the Sinhalese so much or the Saudi Arabia as they love and worship Arab coca. You are not Moors, Moors originate from Morocco. The Sri Lankan Muslims are descended from largely low caste immigrant Tamil Hindu converts from what is now modern day Tamil Nadu and then Tamil Kerala. Only a few hundred families may have a little bit of Arab. Some distant male Arab ancestor with the rest all low caste Tamil Hindu converts. This little bit of Arab amongst a few hundred families does not make the Sri Lankan Muslims families Arab or Moorish. You are just a bunch of opportunistic selfish self centred evil low caste Dravidian or pre Dravidian Hindu immigrant Indian Tamil converts, who are pathetically clinging on to the incorrect name that the Portuguese gave to all South Asian Muslims ” Moors” that has been discarded by all other South Asian Muslim communities other than these low caste Dravidian converted Sri Lankan Muslims, as they want to hide their real lowly origins and escape the anti Tamil racism from the Sinhalese.
      It was the Tamils of Sri Lanka who gave them refuge, when they fled from their original South Indian homeland. As they were fellow Tamils. They first settled along the western and north western littorals of the island that was part of the Tamil homeland. The Sinhalese did not want them , when they fled Portuguese persecution, that is why they came and settled in the Tamil east a few centuries ago.

  • 0
    0

    A practical solution to create an ethnic balance in the EP is to join District with NCP and amalgamate Polonnaruwa District with EP.
    Polonnaruwa (Thamankaduwa) was at one time part of the EP. Trinco District has more in common with the NCP than with the EP.

  • 2
    0

    JIm Softly

    Keep day dreaming you fool. Most of the Indian nuclear scientists are Tamils and there are 120 million Tamils in the world today a sizeable portion of them live out side Tamil nacu and Tamil eelam. We want to repatriate all the Sinhalese illegally settled in the Tamil homeland after the Ceylon Independence in 1948 and we will remerge the North and East as one Tamil province otherwise mark my words you imbecile there won’t be any peace in Ceylon.

  • 2
    0

    Thanos

    I am originally from Dehiwala now resident in London since july 1983. For me the sinhala settlers in the East must be removed and sent back to whoever they originally come from otherwise we must follow the theory one settler one bullet.

  • 2
    0

    Vichrara

    The only solution is to amalgamate north and east with NCP and then build a bridge between Tamilnadu and Tamil Eelam. This will help solve the Tamil problem permanently.

  • 2
    0

    Vichrara

    The only solution is to amalgamate north and east with NCP and then build a bridge between Tamilnadu and Tamil Eelam. This will help solve the ethnic problem in ceylon permanently.

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