27 January, 2022


Response To Dr Nalaka Godahewa’s Speech At The UNHRC In Geneva – Part IX

By Lionel Bopage

Dr Lionel Bopage

[Part 8 of this series was published on Thursday, the 7th of December 2017]

  1. Dr Godahewa says: Demand for a separate state was to go back to “their age-old practice” of suppressing and exploiting their own people; emergence of terrorism was a result of this false propaganda; they continue to spread hatred, preach separatism, and mislead the international community with false information.

During the colonial period, all political parties took the policy position that Sinhala and Tamil languages should have parity of status in all spheres of governance. This position had even been incorporated one time into the constitution of the SLFP. Since 1926, late Mr Bandaranaike was a strong believer in federal structures for accommodating aspirations of diverse peoples. Demand for a separate state, however, was a later culmination of the political and emotional expressions of nationalism, awakened against majoritarianism that was advantageously transformed and diverted into generating an anti-Tamil consciousness for sinistrous political motives. Anti-colonial nationalistic expressions of Sinhala leaders were increasingly uttered with an anti non-Sinhala twist.

In 1952, nepotism pushed out Mr Bandaranaike from the deputy leader position of the UNP and late Mr Dudley Senanayake was appointed instead. Mr Bandaranaike changed his religious allegiance from Christianity to Buddhism and also became a master-orator in Sinhalese. He used all available opportunities to reinforce his political position and started championing the class interests of the Sinhala Buddhist national bourgeoisie, by advocating for recognition of their rights that had been heavily violated under colonialism. With this, pro-Sinhala nationalist sentiments took the centre stage, gradually making the anti-capitalist political sentiments secondary. Many members and sympathisers of the left also changed their political allegiances and joined the newly formed Sri Lankan Freedom Party.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, up until the early 70’s, Tamils as a community were not only against separation, but also rejected those politicians that advocated for it. A typical example is the late Mr. C. Sunderalingam[1], the distinguished professor of mathematics of the Ceylon University and MP, who contested the electorate of Vavuniya in the March 1960 general election. His entire election campaign was based on the slogan of establishing a separate state for Tamils. Though as a MP he was a strong voice in the Parliament demanding for the just rights of the Tamil people, Tamils in Vavuniya made him lose his deposit at the election for his separatist stand.

Soon after independence, stubborn refusal of legitimate Tamil demands by the successive Sri Lankan regimes, led to the next phase of their struggle, i.e., a demand for the formation of a federal state for the people in the north and east. Later Sinhala nationalists wrongly interpreted this as a demand for a separate state, because the Tamil name ‘Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchchi’ (ITAK – Tamil State Party) was taken to reflect a separate Tamil state. However, a fact check indicates that this demand was for an autonomous political structure with a level of devolution, which is even less than what is currently offered under the provincial council’s system.

In 1972 ITAK merged with the All Ceylon Tamil Congress and Ceylon Workers’ Congress to form the Tamil United Front. The Tamil United Front later changed its name to Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in 1976. From the Tamil point of view, all efforts to resolve their problems within a united country through negotiations had failed. Those in power always repressed peaceful Tamil agitations and protests with violence. The Tamil United Liberation Front at its congress adopted the Vaddukoddai Resolution on 14 May 1976 at the insistence of its youth wing called ‘Tamil Illaignar Peravai’. It stated that problems of the Tamil people can only be solved by establishing a separate independent state called Tamil Eelam. Despite adopting this resolution, the TULF did not have any firm action program to establish it, and at the end of the 1970s the youth wing broke away to form an independent movement of its own.

Following the TULF’s resounding victory at the general elections of July 1977, the late 1970s saw the Tamil militant youth gradually taking forward the demand for Tamil Eelam through armed struggle. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) had autocratically dominated almost all other movements that aimed at establishing a separate state. Some militant movements compromised themselves or were pushed to compromise with the opponents of the LTTE. Many who did not agree with the autocratic methods of the LTTE had willingly or unwillingly become appendages of the security forces and ended up fighting with them as their units or vigilante groups. Thus, the LTTE came to be considered as the sole party with which any political or ‘armed negotiations’ had to be done.

During the history of the conflict the Tamil leadership had minimal political contact with the progressive forces in the south. The forces like the JVP in the south had minimal contact with the Tamil nationalists or progressive forces in the north-east. This could be due to many factors shown below, such as Tamil militancy increasingly becoming extremely violent, moving away from democratic principles using terror as a weapon; autocratic and gradual elimination of Tamil progressive militant movements; acceptance of the LTTE as the ‘sole’ representative of the Tamil people; violent attacks on Tamils in the south led by Sinhala chauvinists; weakened hold on the masses of the progressive left forces in the south; betrayal of Tamil peoples’ democratic rights by some left forces that formed alliances with the nationalist leaderships since 1968; the fear of alienation of the left forces from the Sinhalese; and fear of repression if engaged with Tamil militants.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)[2] was first enacted as a temporary law in 1979 then made permanent in 1982. It gave the police broad powers to search and arrest for unspecified unlawful activities, and detain people without warrant up to 18 months and without being produced in a court of law. The provisions of the PTA have made it possible for removing detainees to torture cells usually installed in camps. So many abuses over the years have been reported including torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions of individuals, particularly Tamils. It is continued to be used in the North and East to oppress the Tamil people.

From being a small group of militants the LTTE gained prominence after the government initiated July 1983 riots, which came to be known as the ‘Black July’. A problem that was confined to the borders of the Island became internationalised due to the exodus of Tamil people. Both Tamil and Sinhala diaspora under the direction of their respective leaderships, ‘worked’ extremely hard to internationalise the issue. With the emergence of the “9/11” fundamental Islamic terror in 2001 that saw a succession of four coordinated aircraft attacks on the USA, the tables turned. With around 3,000 deaths, over 6,000 injured and over $10 billion property damages, the US twisted arms of most governments to oppose militant liberation movements around the world.

The failed policy framework of successive Sri Lankan regimes led the country into a protracted civil war. Tamil leaders have also been derivatives of the same colonial process previously explained. While representing the interests of the local capitalist class, they also represented the social and cultural interests of Tamils as a community. In the 1940s while agitating for political independence they also agitated for a just and reasonable representation of the Tamils in state political institutions. Tamil demands were not for a federal state, nor for a separate state but for reasonable representation for their people. Their demands did not deviate away from the unitary state structure the British had imposed on the peoples of the island. The inhabitants of the land whether they were Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims, have never voluntarily agreed to a unitary state structure. It was an alien construct.

Compared to long surviving federal states such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Switzerland and India, the devolution envisioned by Mr Chelvanayagam was extremely mild in both content and form. They were demanding a Tamil federal state within a united Sri Lanka, with the power to administer “agriculture, cooperatives, lands and land developments, colonisation, education, health, industries, fisheries, housing, social services, electricity, water schemes and roads[3]. This demand in itself does not in any way constitute a demand for separation. Federalism or a federal system that Mr Chelvanayagam campaigned for did not represent a division of the country into legally separate independent entities.

If the Sinhalese were in Tamils shoes, how would they feel? Rejected by their state; they would have felt that their very existence was at stake; and their identity found no expression in the governance culture of the country and so on. If their national aspirations could not be realised through existing constitutional framework, the next step they would be considering is separation. That is exactly what happened to the Tamil people of this country.

Therefore, to attribute the emergence of terror in Sri Lanka to the false propaganda of the Tamil political elite is a total misrepresentation, if not over simplification of facts. Actually, during the conflict, Dr Godahewa’s political chief even made pretentious promise of ‘13+’, that in itself is an acceptance of the fact that the Tamils of Sri Lanka have genuine problems that needed to be addressed politically – whatever its ultimate form might be. It was that 13+ pledge which, in fact, mislead the international community with false information.

*To be continued …..

[1] In 1918, he had also been a staff member of Ananda College, see http://archives.dailynews.lk/2002/11/16/fea05.html

[2] In particular see Sections 2, 6, 9 and 10 of the Act available at: http://www.commonlii.org/lk/legis/num_act/potpa48o1979608/

[3] Bandaranaike – Chelvanayakam Pact 26 July 1957 available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/LK_570726_Bandranayaki%20Chelvanayakam%20Pact.pdf, and Dudley Senanayake – Chelvanayakam Pact 24 March 1965 available at: https://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/LK_650324_Dudley%20Senanayake%20-%20Chelvanayakam%20Pact.pdf

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 1

    ”…..They continue to spread hatred …..” :

    School textbooks in history have been used in the last several decades in Sri Lanka to instigate the ethnic majority to hate ethnic minorities, eg
    The Danger in Distorted Education: Sri Lanka’s History Curriculum, 29 October 2016, Groundviews

  • 0

    Simply great.. It is unbelievable that Lanka continue to move in the wrong direction when the country still have great and clear thinkers and especially brave guys like you. But I can see you live in Australia for quite a long time… Lanka chased away Lankan-burgers first, then they chased away all educated Tamils from the island… At the same time Lanka rejected Sinhalese intellectuals who can analyse “objectively” and brave enough to come forward to fix our core issues… From the time of W-Rahula and Adikaram, majority of Lanka made sure these intellectuals would not interfere their path of self destruction… made them leave the country… made them feel useless staying inside the country…
    Anyway it is great to see what you try to do from outside….Good on you mate…

  • 2

    It is about “Sinhala only” policy of suppression, subjugation, lack of justice, accountability and human rights, and the lack of ” live and let live”, now after 8 years since the Mullivaikal war, that demands separation.

    There will be many more distinguish “Sunderalingams” contesting on the same platform, in the near future.

    The Thirst of the Tamils is Tamil Eelam.

  • 1

    If Sinhalese were in Tamil boots, they should have recognize who the majority is and try to assimilate further with the majority population disregarding their own culture and identity.

  • 2

    So much have been spoken by so many on so many occasions with regard to solving the Tamil /Sinhala problems. Unfortunately it appears that the only ingredient available for the Sinhalese to win election is hold on to the ethnic divide, despite it taking them nowhere. Perhaps there should be another Prapaharn among the Sinhalese to stop this divide preached by Sinhala politician.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.