By C.V. Wigneswaran –
Recently, the following conversation took place between journalists’ and me:
Question: After your recent replies to questions posed and your maiden speech in Parliament you are being referred to as a racist. What have you to say about it?
Answer: According to Chambers Dictionary racism means belief in the inherent superiority of some races over others usually with the implication of a right to be dominant. It also means discriminative treatment based on such belief.
I belong to the much maligned, discriminated, battered and bruised race in Sri Lanka – the Tamil Race. Have I talked of inherent superiority of my race with the implication that we Tamils have a right to be dominant in this Country?
On the contrary I am trying to put the record straight in a Country where one race on a false belief of their superiority over other races are trying to dominate us and other races. When I state the truth I am called a Racist. If so none could correct the false beliefs built up during the last century by the Sinhalese about themselves and Sri Lanka would have to continue to wallow in untruths and falsehoods. We are not asking that we should govern Sinhala areas. We want self-determination with regard to our traditional Homelands.
When I state the truth I am called a racist because the Truth hurts. I have never been a racist though I am conscious of the antiquity of the Tamil Language (extant over 5000 years) and I have been introduced to its ancient Literature comparable to any Literature in this world. Tamil is a classical language. Very few Languages in this world could be classified as a classical language. Tamil is a living classical Language.
Question: It is said that the written Sinhala Language may have come into use around the 6th or 7th Century AD and its first grammar Sidath Sangarawa written in the 13th Century. But prior to the written Language the Sinhala Language existed as a Spoken Language. That Spoken Language had existed for over 2000 years. What have you to say?
Answer: When an Indo Aryan dialect contemporary with Sanskrit and Tamil were spoken with no writings available they were called prakrit. Sinhala Language could have been derived from such prakrit dialects. But they cannot be called Sinhala prakrit because the Sinhala Language as a Language had not still been born. It is we who came centuries later who refer to the prakrit dialect as Sinhala prakrit. We identify later letters or words in the Sinhala Language and co-relate them to the old dialects as Sinhala prakrit. Such prakrit need not have evolved into the Sinhala language. It could have integrated with the Tamil language and there may not have been a Sinhala language.
There is no reference to a Sinhala spoken language prior to the 6th and 7th Centuries AD anywhere. Therefore there could not have been Sinhalese who spoke the Sinhala Language who existed prior to 6th or 7th Century AD.
Tamil was the lingua franca of the Island of Ceylon then. If you say the prakrit dialect later became Sinhala Language and therefore both are same, it is like saying “I came from my grandfather; therefore I am my grandfather”!
The Sinhala Language is a very recent Language. At the time Buddhism was introduced there was no Sinhala Language nor Sinhalese who spoke that Language. The Language of that time was Tamil and those who spoke the Tamil Language were mostly the Naga Tamils. Devanampiya Theesan was a Tamil. Even Dushta Kamini (Dutugemunu) was a Tamil. He was a Tamil Buddhist while Ellalan was a Tamil Hindu. There were no Sinhala – Tamil differences at that time.
When I was at Royal I went and asked the Principal Dudley K.G. de Silva whether I could do Tamil, Sanskrit, Pali and Sinhala for my University Entrance. He said that cannot be done since he could not arrange the Teachers accordingly. Many of my dear friends did Pali, Sanskrit and Sinhala with Ceylon History. If only any one of them did Tamil Literature they would have got a better idea of the Country’s history. Most persons today who speak of Sri Lankan history are not aware that there were Tamil Epics based on Buddhist themes existing over 2000 years ago.
I know the Sinhalese have been fed on false data, false beliefs and false myths and legends that they have an inflated assessment of themselves. But we Tamils cannot help but tell the truth because the Sinhalese have based their racism on false data and information to discriminate against us and dominate us. I do not claim to be a Historian though History was a subject for my Degree.
Either the Sinhalese intelligentsia must study their History and advise their politicians to accept Tamils as the original inhabitants of this Island and therefore give them recognition and accept them as a sister race of this Island and allow them to rule their traditional homelands under a federal constitution or have a referendum in the North and East to find out what they want or how they want to politically conduct themselves in the future and do what the people of the North and East desire or have an International team of Historians to study our history and state the truth of the antiquity of the Tamil Language and the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the recent formation of the Sinhala Language so that the majority Sinhalese would recognize the antiquity of the Tamils and grant them equal status under a federal constitution so that the Tamils could govern themselves in their own regions.
Question: It is said the million odd Tamils who migrated to other countries from Sri Lanka are prepared to learn the Language of the country of their adoption and abide by the rules, regulations and laws of those countries but they refuse to integrate with their fraternal community the Sinhalese. What have you to say to that?
Answer: Do they accept us as their fraternal community? Then they should first cut down drastically on the number of soldiers and sailors in the North and East presently and treat us as a fraternal community instead of a subjugated community. In effect what you are asking is why do you go to your friend’s house and behave very obediently in the presence of their parents but while at home you are incorrigible in the presence of your parents!
When you are with your parents you are among your own kith and kin. Your own blood! They are not outsiders. We as kids could ask for food, presents, luxuries and we are sure our parents would consider buying them for us.
The Sinhalese have not so far treated us as equals let alone as brothers and sisters. When we say the Sinhalese are discriminating against us, committing genocide against us we are sure we have a right to say so because this is our Country as well. It has been our country for over 3000 years. We have occupied discernible areas and we have been speaking the Tamil Language and following the Tamilian cultural hereditary identities. The trouble in Sri Lanka is that the Sinhalese do not want to accept that it was only in 1833 that the Country was made into a single administrative unit. Prior to that there were several Kingdoms and vassal states in this Country. The present North and East were always Tamil Speaking.
If you say we must integrate with the Sinhalese as our people integrate with outsiders in other countries, the Sinhalese must grant us our rights, accept us as their equals entitled to equal rights. Then certainly our people would integrate with the Sinhalese. You keep the political power with the Sinhalese and then ask us why don’t you integrate with us. What does that mean? “This Country belongs to us the Sinhalese. You are a minority. You have no rights of your own. So integrate with us”. We reply to that saying “We Tamil speaking are the majority in the North and East. We have always been such majority in the North and East. Accept that fact. Allow us the right to govern ourselves and then we could shake hands as equals and integrate”.
Question: Dr.Nilanga Samarasinghe a researcher at University of Lucerne, Switzerland has advised the Sri Lankan government to establish a centre to observe racial movements in Sri Lanka and take action against racism etc. His article was published in the Ceylon Today recently. Did you read it? What is your take on that?
Answer: There are a lot of words that are being bandied about by the Sinhalese and their Sinhala majority governments. Terrorists and Terrorism, Tigers and Eelam, Racists and Racism, separatists and separation and so on. This relates to the Tamils mainly. Similar jargon is also used against the Muslims at times.
The purpose is to frighten us. None of us are any of these. If they set up a Racism Centre the learned Doctor thinks we would not be able to talk about the atrocities so far committed by the Sinhala majority governments and their Military, we would not be able to point out the false history that has been perpetrated so far by the Sinhalese intelligentsia and we would not be able to stress our individuality. Don’t you think a Racism Centre being established by downright Sinhala Racists would be a big joke? Let the majority community racists try to understand what we are saying first instead of following JR and his Sixth Amendment to the Constitution! Please do not forget even after the Rajapaksas are gone like how the Bandaranaikes were gone after 50 years, the Tamils will still fight for their rights if they must. There have been 100 years’ Wars the World has seen. I think the learned Doctor’s ideas are puerile.
*Justice C.V. Wigneswaran – Member of Parliament, Jaffna District