By Rajan Hoole –
The 1972 Republican Constitution of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s United Front govern- ment, which included the LSSP and CP, was a turning point in the Tamil question. The new Constitution took a hard-line approach to the Tamils. It removed even Section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution, which provided at least a psychological guarantee to the minorities by barring discrimination on grounds of group af- filiation. The youth were in a militant mood and the stress was on opting out of the Sri Lankan mainstream and safeguarding the Northern and Eastern Provinces as the homeland of the Tamils.
Uppermost in their mind was the safeguarding of territory against planned state sponsored colonisation by Sinhalese.
The nationalisation of the British owned plantations in the mid-1970s resulted in dislocation of services to Tamil plantation labour. This was accompanied by some violence in which the plantation families were thrown out of their line rooms onto the streets. A combination of these led to starvation and vagrancy. In one instance of communal violence in the Delta and Sanquahar estates, the attacking mobs were shouting “Victory to Jayaratne”. The latter was then MP for Gampola and recently the General Secretary of the SLFP. For the first time, Sri Lanka witnessed scenes of starvation with Tamil labour rummaging through dustbins in the hill country towns and in Colombo too. A doctor in a provincial hospital confided that when these folk died of starvation, their instructions were to certify the cause as malnutrition. In one pro- vincial town at least the folk on the streets in search of food were forced into lorries by the authorities and dumped in the wild to clear the town of their presence. Many of them went in search of a new life in the Northern and East- ern Provinces. Tamils at all levels helped them to settle down on mainly permit lands (see Sul- len Hills, our Special Report No.4).
When the 1977 communal violence was un- leashed under the new UNP government, Plan- tation Tamils from many areas went to the North-East as it was regarded as the only area where they were safe, and also by then several of them had family connections after the earlier migration in the 70s. The Government itself pro- vided them with relief payment and transport to go there. Nearly every Tamil was sympathetic to the Plantation Tamils coming there and many were actively sympathetic. Apart from the hu- manitarian aspect, it was seen as a means of pro- tecting the borders of the North-East from the threat of the State bringing in Sinhalese settlements. Gandhiyam and the TRRO (Tamil Refugees Rehabilitation Organisation) were actively involved in helping the settlers, and many of those involved in varying degrees supported the establishment of a separate Tamil State. There were those whose politics was Left, and there were others like A. David of the Gandhiyam who looked to the pioneers of modern Israel. All these shades were later reflected in the various militant formations.
True, the Government had a problem on its hands. But it also had several peaceful options. The situation was not bad enough for most Tamils to want to fight for a separate state. Of course, all Tamils believed that they had genu- ine grievances as spelt out in the UNP election manifesto of 1977. What the vast majority of them were looking for was a federal compro- mise. But Jayewardene’s way of dealing with it was by propping up his Mathews to threaten the Tamils while trying to look conciliatory him- self, but in practice holding the bludgeon and offering no more than the provenly fake DDCs. The result is history.
Once on this course, it led to the July 1983 violence and logically and institutionally the State was trapped into regarding the Tamils as aliens and the enemy. We shall see this at work. Rather than solving the problem and bringing reconciliation, the State went about laying the foundations for separation. Every step taken by the State was on warped premises.
To be continued..