30 September, 2020

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Landmarks In Our Journey To Ethnic Morass

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

Today’s tumultuous ethnic relations that bedevil Sri Lanka’s political and social tranquillity is the end product of decades of political miscalculations and misunderstandings by each community about the others, and the overall mismanagement of the country’s pluralism by post-independence rulers. In this saga of miscalculations, misunderstanding and mismanagement certain historical landmarks stand out prominently. Before outlining these and interpreting how they shaped our journey to an ethnic morass it is important to remember two contrasting episodes from Sri Lanka’s pre-independence history.

The first episode relates to the successive Dravidian invasions from South India dating back to 230 BCE according to one source, and the destructions they inflicted upon Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, the seats of Buddhist royalty. These acts of aggression, conquest and destruction, the memory of which has been kept alive by partisan historians and story tellers, have ingrained in the Sinhala Buddhist psyche over centuries that Tamils are a domineering community. In the modern era, the state of Tamil Nadu across the Palk Strait and the concentration of Tamils in the north and east of the island with another 19th century addition in the central highlands added to the Sinhala Buddhist psychological fear that similar invasions from Tamil Nadu, perhaps on the invitation of their local brethren, cannot be discounted. This fear almost translated into reality in 1987 when the Indian Air Force forcibly entered Sri Lankan air space and dropped what India called “Mercy Aid” to Tamil victims during the civil war. No wonder Sri Lanka condemned it as an act of “naked aggression” and President Jayewardene called it an “invasion”.

The second episode relates to the advent of Muslims to the country. Nowhere in Asia or for that matter in any part of the world was a Muslim minority treated with such great magnanimity and respect as in Sri Lanka during the reign of the medieval Buddhist kings. The hospitality that these monarchs extended to the early Arab and Persian Muslim immigrants is unparalleled in the annals of history. Even when the Muslims were chased out of Sitawaka during the Portuguese rule in the 16th century it was a Buddhist king, Senerath, who gave the victims refuge in his Kandyan Kingdom. This historical fact is a living memory in Muslims psyche.

On top pf these two contrasting historical episodes and their equally antithetic impact on the Sinhalese and Muslim psyches respectively other developments in the modern era added to the prevailing inter-ethnic mistrust and miscalculations. These developments are the landmarks that contributed to the current tumult. 

Development 1:

During the British rule in the 1880s, at a time when an opportunity arose for Muslims to gain representation in the Legislative Council, the then Tamil leader and Legislative Councillor Sir Ponnampalam Ramanathan argued in the council, and authored a paper, which was published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, that the Muslims were Tamils by origin but the follow the religion of Islam, implying thereby that there was no need for a separate representation for them. This diabolical blunder by Ramanathan, not so much because of the substance of his arguments but because of the timing of it, sowed the seeds of mistrust between the Tamil and Muslim communities. A permanent legacy of this unfortunate episode is that from that time onwards the Muslims of Sri Lanka began to call themselves Moors, a disparaging epithet bestowed upon all Arabs and Muslims by the Portuguese. This mistrust however, got further deepened after the 1915 Sinhalese-Muslim riots when the same gentleman led a delegation to London to plead before the court for the release of the Sinhalese leaders who were arrested by the colonial government on charges of aiding and abetting the rioters. Later in the 1930s and 1940s the mistrust deepened again when the Tamils supported the Indian Congress and Muslims the Muslim League in the struggle for Pakistan.

Development 2:

After independence, S. W. R. D Bandaranaike, an Oxford University educated orator in impeccable English with little command over his mother tongue, Sinhalese, becomes the champion of the Sinhala language and Sinhala nationalism. (It was he when addressing the Jaffna Youth Congress in 1931 first proposed a Federal Constitution for Ceylon). After winning the 1956 elections, as the Prime Minister of a coalition government made up of similar minded nationalists, he got passed the Sinhala Only Bill in the parliament and plunged the country into the first Sinhalese-Tamil ethnic riots (I am not sure whether there were any island wide riots between these two communities before 1957). Before he could take control of the damage he had caused to Sinhalese-Tamil relations by co-authoring the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact he was assassinated by a Buddhist monk.   

Development 3:

The wedge driven into Sinhalese-Tamil ethnic relations by the language bill, the first-pass-post method of electing parliamentary representatives under the Westminster model and the ubiquity of Muslim settlements in the country provided a golden opportunity for Muslims to take advantage of the growing inter-party and inter-communal rivalry to strengthen their own representation in the parliament without forming a separate political party of their own. The historical memory of Buddhist hospitality to early Muslim immigrants and the widening cleavage between the other two communities showed to business minded Muslim leaders that they could make political capital out of the emerging instability. The bitter memories that these leaders carried about their community’s losses in the 1915 riots were forgotten and they decided to ally with the Sinhalese permanently and make gains at the expense of the Tamils. “Let they be divided we can swim; let them be united we will sink” said one Muslim leader.

Development 4:

In the 1970s Prime Minister Srimavo Bandaranike’s so called socialist coalition government introduced the University Standardization scheme, ostensibly to redress the imbalance that hitherto existed between the urban and rural students so that more of the latter could enter the universities in future, but in reality the scheme ended up in reducing the number of Tamil students entering universities from prestigious colleges in Jaffna and Colombo and opting to study professional courses such as medicine and engineering.

One of the reasons, which is usually downplayed by Sinhalese politicians, for the introduction of the Sinhala Only Bill by the SWRD government followed by its decision to make Swabasha as the medium of instruction in schools and universities was to provide more employment opportunities for Sinhalese medium students and graduates in the public service. This measure did not however reduce the dominance of Tamils in professional services until the standardization scheme began to have its impact.  In this context, it should also be mentioned that the scheme provided a boon to Muslims whose access to r professional education was highly restricted because of the absence of schools teaching the hard subjects.  Over all, the fact that the standard of university education has suffered because of this scheme was no concern to policy makers of the time. They were singularly consumed by their Sinhala nationalistic fervour.        

Development 5:

In 1977, President J. R. Jayewardene, through his Gaullist constitution, did away with the Westminster model and introduced the principle of proportional representation in electing representatives to the legislature.  This he did deliberately in order to reduce the disproportionate representation, he thought, that ethnic minorities like the Moors and political minorities like the socialists were able to achieve under the previous model. This constitution with its executive presidency saw the culmination of the process of removing all constitutional safeguards to minorities, a process started already by the Colvin constitution under the previous socialist regime.    

Development 6:

Before that decade was over a new generation of Tamil youth, many of whom were the direct victims of Srimavo’s standardization scheme, in frustration of the failure of their senior Tamil leadership and its dialogical approach with Sinhalese leaders to find solutions to Tamil grievances, decided to change course and resorted to an armed struggle. The ambivalence of the Federal Party which talked about Federalism in English and Tamil Arasu in Tamil disappeared overnight with the proclamation of Tamil Eelam by the rebels. This critical decision reinforced the psychological fear of the Sinhalese community as explained at the beginning. Among the several Tamil factions that appeared on the scene at that time the LTTE under the megalomaniac leadership of Veluppillai Prabakaran eventually emerged as the predominant voice of Tamil Eelam. 

The fact that their warriors were trained by the Indira Ghandi government in India and particularly in Tamil Nadu, and the fact that the Tamil Nadu politicians particularly during their election campaigns were competitively vocalising their support to the cause of Tamil Eelam gave a false impression to LTTE that there would definitely be Indian material support if in case a military confrontation breaks out between its warriors and government forces. Just as Indira Gandhi intervened to protect Bangladesh from Pakistan so also LTTE expected her to intervene to save Tamil Eelam. The “Mercy Aid” air drop mentioned earlier reinforced this impression. This proved to be a grave miscalculation at the end. The different geopolitical implications involved between India’s intervention in Bangladesh and it’s would be intervention in Sri Lanka never entered the calculations of LTTE strategists.    

Development 7:

In the 1900s, a new generation of Muslims mostly from the Eastern Province tried with success to overcome Jayewardene’s proportional representation obstacle, by forming a separate Muslim political party, called the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). The political strategy behind the formation of this party was to rally the support of the entire voting Muslim population on the basis of a united umma, an Islamic religious concept, maximise the number of Muslim seats in the parliament and use that strength as a bargaining chip to win favours from whatever government that comes to power.  The fact that the SLMC was always willing to exploit the religious feelings of Muslims for the party’s political advantage was a dangerous ploy especially at a time when LTTE was trying to win sympathy and recruit warriors from the Muslim community.  SLMC, in trying to unite the Muslim voters succeeded in separating them from the Tamils.

This did not mean that it won the sympathy of the Sinhalese either. What made the Sinhalese suspicious of SLMC’s rise was something beyond the party’s control. This was the phenomenon of Islamic religious fundamentalism that originated in the Middle East and was spreading to other parts of the world after that 1980s with the aid of petrodollars and Gulf employment. Sri Lanka, which by the 1980s had already become a preeminent centre for the Tabligh Jamaat – a peaceful missionary movement dedicated to make Muslims better devotees, soon turned out to be an oasis for the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. Once the SLMC started exploiting the religious feelings of Muslims then it became inevitable that it had to open its doors to allow fundamentalism to colour the party’s image. The cry “Allahu Akbar” reverberated throughout SLMC’s political campaigns. It is not without its religious significance that SLMC’s founder president M.H.M. Ashraf was the first Muslim to appear in the Sri Lankan House of Representatives wearing a white cap, part of the changing religious attire of Muslims, instead of the traditional fez worn by leaders like Sir Razik Fareed and H.S. Ismail. The upshot of all this political manoeuvre by the SLMC was that the Muslim community apart from deepening its division with the Tamils also for the first time began to be mistrusted by Sinhalese nationalists.   

Development 8:

In 2009, LTTE’s armed struggle for Eelam reached its anticlimax and ended in a bitter and tragic defeat in the hands of the Sinhalese army. This inglorious finale to an almost three-quarter-century mismanagement of pluralism by Sri Lanka’s state-holders led to three momentous consequences.  Firstly, although LTTE was defeated militarily it’s demand for a Tamil Eelam has become a transnational thirst and the Tamil diaspora, like the Jewish diaspora before 1948, is trying to achieve it through international pressure. Whether it will achieve its objective as long as Tamil Nadu with is sixty-eight million Tamils remains part of the Indian federation is questionable. Secondly, the fear that the Sinhalese psyche carried for centuries about a potential invasion from South India evaporated overnight after witnessing the last minute betrayal of Tamil Nadu leadership to come to the aid of LTTE. This betrayal would haunt the memories of Sri Lankan Tamils for generations to come. However, from the Sinhalese point of view that betrayal demonstrated that it was the relations with Delhi that should matter to the Sri Lankan government and not those with Tamil Nadu. Finally, the decisive victory by the Sinhalese army freed the political terrain for Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism to reign supreme.

It is the aggressive nature of this nationalism that poses the biggest existential challenge for the Tamil and Muslim minorities and continuing to deepen the island’s ethnic morass.  To get out of this quagmire new strategies from an enlightened leadership is needed from all communities. It appears that this is in short supply at the moment.    

*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia

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    standardization was not aiming at rural urban divide; the policy makers were bent on reducing the number of tamils entering science based courses and they were successful. latter they had to pay for it to build an armed force to tackle the tamil armed struggle. . the rest is history. . if the minorities are underrepresented in in the govt.service or any other state institution which requires a good number of tamil speaking officers the SL f;or example; MoE/ NIE, the govt. ignores it or defends the status quo or (those days) blame the spokesman for militant leaning. this was the practice whether it is blue party or green party. it is very careful with under-representation of sinhalese.
    now see what is happening? with hundreds of private higher education institutes can you ensure ethnic balance?
    -dayal

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    SRI LANKA no longer should think in communal or ethical line. It would take the country into another blood bath: we have not learned a lesson from 30 years. of war: Please do not recall all past mistakes: all community have done such mistakes: for instance during colonial period Tamils enjoyed all government jobs( more than 50%) given to them by British: it was legitimate demand of Sinhalese people that to ask for fair share jobs from British in colonial period. It is expected that successive Sri Lankan governments would reclaim fair share of Jobs and positions after all they enjoy more 74% of population and land: Tamils have been more greedy: They went for Eeelam war: that gave them bad impression locally and internationally:
    This does not mean Tamils should treated as second class citizens: But what BBS and some extremists do is the same things: they want to isolate all minorities: that is not a good way for Sri Lanka;
    any ethnic clashes or violence will have direct and indirect consequences; Economy of Sri Lanka will be damaged seriously: tourism will go down and the country will suffer a lot :
    so, if you really love Sri Lanka do not think on communal line at all. whether you like it or not ..existence of different cultural groups/communities is a reality of Sri Lanka today: Can you ask all Tamils to leave Sri Lanka? can you chase of all out? It is impossible task: can you do this to any community in this world: Look what happened in Burma: Now Both Burmese and Bangaladesh governments are planing to re-resettle all those Rohingiaya people back in Burma: What a mess? some evil people come out and make a mess then all community to suffer and at the end of it. now they are doing a resettlement plan: Had they used their heads before all these riots they would not have all this mess;

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      Yes just like the racist Serbs in the former Yugoslavia the Sinhalese love playing the victims when they are the aggressors. and the biggest racists. They did not get government jobs on the basis of merit , because they were not qualified. No one prevented them from obtaining an education, they were too damn lazy. The British opened all the best schools down south and not in the north and east. These were opened by American missionaries and Hindu organisations. Just like the Muslim opportunists who keep on repeating the lame excuse about Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan who only stated the truth and never even once stated Muslims should be discriminated , the Sinhalese keep on repeating the lie that the British favoured the Tamils , when in fact they did not but used them, otherwise the Tamils will not be in their present mess if they favoured us, to justify their racism , even 70 years after independence. Tamils are not greedy they are not claiming or stealing Sinhalese lands , it is the other way around Sinhalese and now Muslims are stealing Tamil lands in the north and east. These lands are ancient Tamil lands where Tamils have lived and ruled for thousands of years . Not Sinhalese who only arrived here in the past 60 years under state sponsored colonisations schemes to deliberately alter the demography or the Muslims who arrives as refugees a few centuries ago and were given asylum by the generous Tamils. The Portuguese the Dutch the British even past Sri Lankan governments and even the international Indo Sri Lankan treaty recognised these lands as Tamil lands. Now Sinhalese Buddhist fascists and Muslim opportunists are using the armed forces , government resources and funds obtained from certain Gulf countries to change this and are busy concocting false history

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    ameer Ali: Certain things you discuss very unfair because of the way you discuss. Tamils do not have any discrimination. Affluent Tamils enter universities from Jaffna, Kurunegala, Mahanuwara, colombo etc., but, thinka bout poor Tamils from Batti and Kilinichchi like area. Standardization helped those tamils. It is the same with Sinhala youth. Only those in the cities and those could go tuition classes could go to universities. but not the rural youth who did not have teachers, facilities and equipped schools. It is tribal Tamils who discuss it for their benefit.
    So, you are writing very unfair articles.
    It is the same thing with Muslims. Muslim politicians like Hakeem, rishad Bathiuddin, asad Sally, those days the one who got kiled all are Muslim Fanatics as well as use their power to building muslim ghettos and dynasties. Hakeem was showing taking photographs in a challenging pose in front of the Temple of the Tooth. He should have been taken notice for that.

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      Standardisation was introduced by a Muslim minister under the racist Srimavo Bandaraincke to deliberately keep Tamil students out of university. Especially the key science courses. It kept out thousands of qualified Tamil students out and gave entry to Sinhalese and Muslim students with far lower qualification marks , many from elite schools. That a few underqualified Tamil students from remote areas entered does not hide its true intention . This was one of the major reasons that young Tamils took to arms , as they now saw not only language employment and land rights denied to them but now even education. Stop trying to distort the facts of Sinhalese racism and Muslim opportunism . Like the author of this article.

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    Amir the new “L” Board Racist writing his own Mahavamsa
    Amir Ali is taking the trend of Hilmi. It is shame for Amir Ali to post this type of inaccurate material. These gifted are digging out poison from non existed history.
    1.) Mahavamsa is not chronological history record for before 6th century. That is not “one source”.
    2.) Sinhalese feared because Indian invasion is not Tamils are living here. Whether there are Tamil going to be left after another two or three decades, India and China going to have border problems, this means India going eye invade Lankawe. Say now China nudges India on the North, India will overrun Lankawe first for the protection, before turning to China. Lankawe in now more on the shadow of India than ever. Lankawe is not escaping from that for another one or two century. More the countries become powerful they need more land sea for their defence.
    3.) Whether Sinhala Kings kept Muslims on the head and danced or not Muslims always lived among Tamils, shared their language and culture. That was the reason for 1915 Muslims Sinhala riots.
    4.) Ramanathan argument is not to deprive Muslims getting a representation. He prevented English, who openly favored Muslim, from wedging between Tamils and Muslims by passing their version of MMDA. He did not denied Muslims going as representatives for Tamils and Muslims. He argued Tamils having Tamil representatives and Muslims having Muslims representatives. This twisted version story is recently dugout to get minister post to Rishard and Hakeem. This story was almost done not existed before Ashraf. So the mistrust between the communities created by presents Muslims surrendering their women to Don Stephen’s MMDA, for minster posts.

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    5.) Later in the 1930s and 1940s the mistrust deepened again when the Tamils supported the Indian Congress and Muslims the Muslim League in the struggle for Pakistan. This is concocted new dugout is coming out of blue sky because Indian Muslims are with Indian Congress now a days and Tamil Nadu Muslims support Tamils course in Tamil Eelam. Muslim youth were with LTTE until Athulathmuthali split Muslims.
    6.) Before he could take control of the damage he had caused to Sinhalese-Tamil relations by co-authoring the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact he was assassinated by a Buddhist monk. this falsifying history. SWRD killed only after he tore off the Pact. He never was trying to rectify anything. But he was aware that no community will take sudden subordination so wanted go for slow path.
    7.) University Standardization scheme, ostensibly to redress the imbalance that hitherto existed between the urban and rural students This is naïve explanation to justify a government which openly brought Sinhala Only and forced all Tamil government employees to retire. It was called by crook Badiuddin as Standardization. But was only and purely about the medium a student sits the test. It was openly a racial-ethnic discriminatory bill and told by America to withdraw, sighting international laws. Badiuddin’s bill was described as one never seen even in South Africa white minority governments.

    Just to hide 1915 Perahera attach and present them for more and more favours from Muslim Sinhala Goverment, “L” board Racist Amir inventing Kathankuddyhistory.com

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      You are correct this man should be ashamed lying and twisting history and creating his own Arabian night tales to suit his Islamic agenda. Tamils were already living here . The native language Elu is a Dravidian semi Tamil dialect and for formal purposed proper Tamil was used. The king who converted to Buddhism was a Tamil Naga . The native population in the island the Yakka the Naga were Dravidians speaking proper Tamil or the semi Tamil Elu dialect. The Naga were the elite and the Yakka were more the peasants. In areas where the Naga predominated the population largely did not convert to Buddhism and remained Tamils and areas where the Yakka predominated they converted to Buddhism and evolved as Sinhalese over the centuries. Most of the Tamil immigrants and invaders from ancient to modern times got assimilated into the Sinhalese identity and very few into the Sri Lankan Tamil identity. Around 50% of the so called present day Sinhalese are purely descended from low caste Indian Tamil indentured/slave labour who were imported into the island by the Portuguese and the Dutch. Most of the so called Sinhalese kings aristocracy and upper castes are of South Indian origin Largely Tamil and some Telugu. The Tamil Pandians where the allies of the Sinhalese and all the so called Sinhalese kings with titles Bahu or Pandu have a Tamil Pandian origin. The last kings of Kandy were Tamil speaking Naickers of Telugu origin and Tamil was also the court language of Kandy. The modern day Sinhalese share a 70% DNA with Indian Tamils whereas the indigenous Tamils from the north and east only 17% proving who are descended from Tamil invaders and immigrants and who is not. Even the so called North Indian/Bengali DNA is marginally higher amongst Sri Lankan Tamils compared to the Sinhalese 28% compared to 25% for the Sinhalese blowing the exclusive Aryan/North Indian origin for the Sinhalese. The Original Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils share a 55% DNA proving that both people originated from the same people the Dravidian Tamil Naga and Yakka.

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        contd , As for Sri Lankan Muslims . He is posting another Arabian Night tale. A few stray Arab/Persian emissaries in the so called courts of Sinhalese kings most of whom were Tamils , has nothing to do with the modern Sri Lankan Muslim population. The present day Sri Lankan Muslim population are overwhelmingly descended from largely low caste Dravidian Tamil Hindu converts from South India who only migrated to the island a few centuries ago. Largely fleeing their South Indian homeland in wooden boats called in Tamil Marrakallam. Hence the term Marrakalla minissu in Sinhalese. All DNA studies have also proven this. The core DNA of the Sri Lankan Muslim is South Indian Tamil. Just like the Sinhalese and there is below average Arab or other genetic contribution . Less than 10% . The Tamil DNA is 90% or more. Yet these people choose to ignore this for political and economic convenience . Arabs never came to the island or to the shores of South India in their thousands, just a few over a span of centuries and only a few amongst them took local low caste women as comfort women. The vast majority of the South Indian/Sri Lankan Muslims are low caste Hindu converts now all claiming to be Arab. It was the Tamils and not the Sinhalese who gave refuge to the Muslims every time they were in danger. First when they fled South India in the north western coast and then when they fled Portuguese persecution and the Sinhalese did not want them in the east. Yet they again choose to ignore this and twist the truth. Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan stated the truth , when he stated the Muslims of Sri Lanka are not Moors but Tamils. He never anywhere stated Muslims should be discriminated .

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    Writing-writing-writing!historical facts will not take you any where . Best thing will be to start from the status of the Tamils and Muslims in Srilanka in general and NORTH/EAST in particular’in 1948 when we got ‘freedom’?.. if the Sinhalese politicians accept these facts a FEDERAL solution will light the lamp of cordiality. Otherwise we will continue to talk, talk and talk………………………………………………………….. Where do we end and How do we end?

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      An inaccurate selective form of history to suit the island’s Muslim agenda.

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    Amir is Ignorant. He has to know we are the living proof of standardization’s language discrimination effect.

    When CV asked to come forward to merge East and North, politely, a rowdy muslim in the East challenged “Blood river will follow”. Today there is news that his house is burned in the mid of the night and the family ran out to street and cried. Now Yahapalanaya will pay for the ” services of Controlled Fire setting” for its acolytes and will rebuild the house for the thundering speech that rowdy made.

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    In Australia at one time many at the head of the Australian Islamic council were Muslims from the subcontinent from India Pakistan and even Amir Ali from Sri Lanka if I am correct. However the Arabs ( largely from Lebanon ) and the Turks were very unhappy with this as they made up 98% of the Muslim population of Australia, at that time. They stated these people do not represent us or our aspirations or culture. We are from Western Asia/Middle East . They are English speaking South Asians different from us racially and culturally and are products of the British Empire. Even a Turkish MP part of the then government openly stated this and gradually they took over. Yet these Sri Lankan Muslims of Tamil Dravidian South Indian background still badly want to be Arab .

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    One must not forget the role played by the Brits and being played by them to preserve their tea industry.
    Tamils in the tea estates are still being treated like slaves and now the western powers are using the Sinhala rulers to send our women to the middle east and far east to work as domestic modern day slaves. The Brits are still playing a major role in shaping the SL economy. They are not allowing the country to develop as some Sinhala leaders would make us believe for the fear of losing the man power they so badly need to satisfy their economy. There is a tea growing area in Kerala named Munnar where, like the Tamils in SL , the Tamil Nadu Tamils who work there, not the Keralites , are treated like slaves.

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