By C.V. Wigneswaran –
Someone asked me: “You have been reported in a Tamil paper as having said that what the Sri Lankan Tamils want is the right to govern themselves. What is your solution to the ethnic Question?”
My response was – I did say so. Let me start from pre-Independence days. The Sri Lankans consider Rajapakse Wickremasekera Mudianselage Bandaranaike Monarawila Keppetipola, widely known as Keppetipola Disawe as a National Hero. Indeed when Ceylon gained Independence from the British in 1948, Keppetipola was declared a National Hero because he had fought against foreign rule.
Do you know his story?
Keppetipola Disawe was one of the Sinhalese leaders who signed the Udarata Treaty at Kandy on 2nd March 1815 bringing the whole Island under the British Rule. He served under the British Rule as a Disawe in charge of Uva Province. By 1817 there were rebellions against British Rule especially in the Uva region. Governor Robert Brownrigg sent Keppetipola with 500 men to suppress the rebellion. But on meeting the rebels he was convinced of the correctness of their cause. So he joined them as their leader at their request. Keppetipola returned his arms and ammunition to the British Governor saying that he did not wish to destroy them with their own weapons. Keppetipola continued to lead the rebellion. Wilbawe who claimed to be the heir to the Kandy Throne was formally crowned. But under the new King, Keppetipola was appointed as the Maha Adikaram (Chief Minister) and the rebels were urged to free the country from British Rule.
On 1st January 1818 Governor Brownrigg declared Keppetipola and sixteen others as rebels, outlaws and enemies to the Crown and their lands and properties were confiscated. British brought reinforcements from India and Keppetipola found it difficult to continue since most of the cultivations and livestock in the areas where the rebellion took place had been destroyed by the British and the people had no supplies to exist. So Keppetipola disbanded his rebel group and fled to Nuwara Kalawiya in Anuradhapura.
On 28th October 1818 Keppetipola along with Pilimathalawe, another rebel leader, were captured by Captain O’Neil of the British Army with the assistance of Native Lieutenant Cader–Boyet of the Ceylon Rifle Regiment. The captives were tried for high Treason and sentenced to death. On 25th November 1818 Keppetipola and Madugalle, another rebel leader, were taken to the Temple of the Tooth to perform their religious rituals. They were beheaded at Bogambara.
Now why do I refer to Keppetipola Disawe?
He had everything under the British Rule – name, fame, authority, assets and what not? But still he felt his people had no freedom. He fought for freedom from the British for his people. He is now a National Hero.
The Tamils of North and East feel the same way that the Kandyan rebels and their Rebel Leader Keppetipola Disawe felt in 1818 after the 1815 Agreement was signed with the British, of which Keppetipola himself was a signatory.
The Tamils of North and East feel the yoke of Sinhala hegemony today. They feel that they have fallen from the frying pan to the fire – from British Imperialism to Sinhala hegemonism! The Question I answered to the Media in Tamil (I wish I had time to translate it to English and have it translated to Sinhala too) was centered around what the Honourable Prime Minister is credited to have said that Tamils must not isolate themselves by thought but go for quick economic development and that Tamil Politicians do not reflect the aspirations of the Tamil people. Further he is credited to have said that it is not possible to merge North and East. The gist of my response was that the Tamil speaking people are the majority in the North and East. Yet they feel themselves discriminated and dominated by the Sinhalese who are a minority in the North and East. In fact before Independence they were a miniscular minority. The Tamil speaking people need to be able to govern themselves without interference from the Sinhalese politicians who run the Centre. In every aspect of life the domination by the Sinhalese is visible.
Without giving a chance for the local Tamils to apply for land in their traditional homeland region, colonization by Sinhalese from the South goes on in the North and East. This changes the demography of the areas which hitherto have been speaking the Tamil language.
Arbitrarily the Mahaweli Authority maps out lands in the Mullaitivu District from Mullaitivu Town southwards upto Vavuniya and beyond as Mahaweli Lands and undertakes such colonization without recourse to the Provincial Council nor Local Authorities. They are a law unto themselves. Lots of lands earlier occupied by Tamils who had to leave for India during the war have now been taken over by the Government and given to Sinhalese. Thus the Tamils are not consulted when their lands are alienated. After all the North and East are Tamil speaking areas from pre Buddhistic times. It appears that this is part of a conspiracy by the Centre to change the demography and get in more and more Sinhalese representatives into Local Authorities and the Provincial Council.
Earlier almost all the Tamils in the Southern areas were driven away during inter alia 1958 and 1983 pogroms. Now they intend colonizing the North and East with Sinhalese. The latest ruse is the appointment of a Presidential Task Force for the preservation of Archaeological sites in Eastern Province consisting only of Buddhist Priests and Military representatives. If Archaeological sites are to be preserved the Task Force should consist of reputed and reliable Archaeologists and Historians from the Tamil community. There must be delegates who represent the people of the area who are Tamil speaking. At least well respected elders from the areas who know their environment and background to listen to the deliberations of such Task Force and help them when they go astray! After all the historical sites in the East are mostly Tamil Hindu or Tamil Buddhistic remains. There cannot be any Sinhala Buddhist historical sites since the Sinhala language only came into being in the 6th or 7th Century AD. In any event what do Buddhist Priests know of our culture, history and language? After all it is the Buddhist Clergy which has propagated false history into the minds of our Sinhalese brethren and made them believe this is a Sinhala Buddhist country. It was they who got the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact rescinded. Their antipathy towards the Tamils is very well known.
There is another 13 Member Presidential Task Force headed by the Defense Secretary for the protection of the country to build a secure and disciplined society consisting of Military and Police representatives. We could see the direction the country is taking towards a Sinhala Buddhist Military Dictatorship. My prayer is God save the Tamils!
Apart from these activities the Military is in possession of vast tracts of lands used and cultivated by them. There is also an area along A9 Road in Kilinochchi District where it is said that families of the members of the Military have been brought to live. Outsides are not allowed to enter this area situated somewhere around Murugandy Pillaiyar Temple.
Many Military Camps are close to Tanks. Public are not allowed the free use of those Tanks. The villagers are made to be in obligation to the Military if they are to receive the favour of the use of their own local Tanks.
The idea behind bringing water from Mahaweli River to the North is a ruse to take over lands for cultivation along the area the water is earmarked to be brought and to colonize such areas with Sinhalese brought from elsewhere. Up to date not a drop of the Mahaweli water has come to the Northern Province. And our experienced and learned experts say it would not come at all. Then why the Mahaweli project? The Mahaweli Project is specially designed to bring in Sinhala colonists in to the Tamil speaking areas and decimate the Tamil population in the North and East.
Jobs, Trade etc.
Many Hotels in the East do not give jobs to locals. Sinhalese workers have been brought in from outside the Province. In the North recently despite the 15 TNA Representatives in Parliament, workers appointed such as Electricity Meter Readers have all been Sinhalese from outside the Province. If we were still in the Provincial Council we would have protested. But this was done after we relinquished office. May be Provincial Council Elections are being postponed with a purpose. I would not be surprised if the next Provincial Council has about 25% to 30% Sinhala representatives. Of course the chances of the Provincial Councils’ Elections ever taking place is something to be considered. Hope India which brought in the Provincial Councils under the Thirteenth Amendment, however powerless the institution may be today, is aware of the situation here.
Shops of various kinds have been opened along A9 by Sinhalese most of them relatives of the Sinhala Military and Sinhala Police officers. This deprives locals from setting up commercial establishments in their own areas.
When Tourists go to see the coral reef areas in the sea off Mannar District they are taken there by the Navy on payment, which payment goes to the pockets of the Navy. This has deprived the locals of their income.
Many Hotels are now coming up run by the Sinhalese in the North and East. The Tamils who had been residing in the rest of the Country in the South who had been conducting businesses there had been driven away earlier by riots and pogoms and now Sinhalisation of the North and East are taking place. Still some of our Tamils don’t realize what is taking place. They are unable to see the steady decimation of the Tamils from their traditional areas and Sinhalisation of the North and East. The idea behind all this is to destroy the individuality of the Tamil areas and annex such traditional Tamil speaking areas to the Sinhala areas. This took place from Negombo up to Puttalam areas during the last century and most of those traditionally Tamil speaking persons along those areas have now become Sinhalese. If the Title Deeds of a hundred years ago of those areas are examined, they would be found to be in Tamil. Still some very old men and women speak Tamil in their homes but the children and grand children Sinhalese.
Due to the paucity of Tamil speaking Nurses in the North instead of crash training Tamil speaking Nurses, Sinhala speaking Nurses have been brought in to the Hospitals in the North. Many Sinhala speaking Doctors have been posted to the North and East. One such Doctor in the Kilinochchi District sometime ago prescribed wrong medicines due to her inability to converse in Tamil and the patient’s inability to understand Sinhalese.
Continued presence of Military in the North and East
Military Camps are everywhere in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. So much so Mayor John Tory from Canada when he visited Mullaitivu asked why so many Army Camps are there in the North ten years after the War. These Camps are manned by Sinhalese only. Their connection with the Villages close by go beyond their range of Duty. Many stories are brought to our Notice. Informing the Higher ups in the Military about them would find them only faulting our people never a member of the Military. Just like how war criminals now hold high positions in Government Echelons, those complained against in the North and East go on to become high officials in the Militaryor in State Service after retirement.
There is one law for local Tamils and another for Sinhalese Fishermen coming from outside the North and East. The Sinhalese Fishermen are allowed to indulge in illegal fishing activities and take their catch to the South. But the Tamil Fishermen are controlled by the Military. Their fishing activities are curtailed.
Propagation of Buddhism
Buddhist places of worship are opened by Buddhist Priests with the help of the Military in areas where not a single Buddhist lives except for the members of the Military in camps. Often the areas to build such Buddhist places of worship are obtained by deceit or duress with the help of the armed forces.
Article 2 of the UN Genocide Convention defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or part a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such-
1. Killing members of the group.
2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part.
4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.
5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Article 3 defines crimes that can be punished under the Convention.
The Thirteenth Amendment
Though India helped us with the 13th Amendment the rights of the Provincial Council as envisaged by India during the 1987 Indo–Sri Lankan Accord have been highly curtailed. The Tamils lack authority to look after themselves under the 13th Amendment. Even with regard to items where the Provincial Council has power in terms of the Schedule to the 13th Amendment, control by the Centre or the Governor who is the President’s nominee, are the order of the day.
Just as Keppetipola felt that his people lacked freedom under the British, our people under the present dispensation feel they are constrained, controlled and dominated by the South not allowing them the freedom they are entitled to under the Law both local and International.
Children are taught false and one sided history. The long and continued history of the Tamils from pre Buddhistic times are simply ignored and the fictional stories of the Pali Mahawamsa are taught. We lack the freedom to decide what is best for our children.
There are many matters that could be enumerated to show how the Tamils are being discriminated and dominated by the Sinhalese.
We therefore need our freedom within the same country. How long are the Sinhalese going to dictate terms to us? May be until full-fledged genocide takes place and it would be too late for the Tamils to do anything about it.
So let me answer your final question. We would like to have a full fledged federal constitution for the merged North and East which will ensure the integrity of the Island but give the Tamils and Muslims the elbow space to look after their affairs themselves un-interfered by the South. The Muslims will have their area demarcated within the merged North and East and they would be entitled to self government in their areas.
This is what most of the Tamil political parties have been repeatedly urging upon. However, our successive governments have time and time again failed to take account of our demand for a federal solution and all our hopes have now faded. The loss of trust in the successive governments has created a situation for our people to call upon the international community to conduct an internationally monitored referendum to determine the solution to the ethnic Question. We would be urging the International powers – that – be to consider our request favourably as otherwise there is every possibility of a full- fledged genocide taking place here.
The Government and the Sinhalese politicians must shed the false notion that this Country belongs to the Sinhala Buddhists. If majority in numbers is what is relevant the Tamil speaking are the majority in the North and East. The North and East have always been determinably different until the British brought about administrative unity in 1833. So my solution is self government for the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims in their areas where they are in majority. Thank you.
*Justice C.V. Wigneswaran, Ex Chief Minister, Northern Province