By C.V. Wigneswaran –
The question for this month posed in English to me, is as follows;
Question – At your age and with your background what made you take part in the demonstration by Tamil MPs recently opposite the President’s Office at Galle Face?
Response- The urgency of our request! I organized an International Virtual Conference on Land Grabbing some time ago with International Experts taking part, apart from our own Senior Parliamentarian Hon’ Mr. Sambanthan and others.
A significant statement was made by an International Expert from Israel by name Professor Yiftachel who participated in the Conference. He is a highly cited Israeli Scholar in geography and urban studies. He formulated over two decades ago the theory of ethnocratic regimes. He did research into the nature of land grabbing taking place against Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka by the successive majority Sinhala Governments and came to the conclusion that Sri Lanka too like Israel is an ethnocratic regime.
This reference to Sri Lanka as an ethnocratic regime is very significant. The successive Sri Lankan Governments in recent times have all been ethnocratic in their nature and attitude towards the Tamils especially, and against the Muslims in recent times.
An ethnocracy is a type of political structure in which the state apparatus is controlled by a dominant ethnic group to further its interests, power and resources. From the time of Independence the Sinhalese leaders have been plotting and planning against the Tamils to drive them out of the regions they had occupied in Sinhala majority areas during British times and to then take control of areas within the traditional homelands of the Tamils.
There is now sufficient evidence to show the Tamils occupied these traditional homelands for more than 3000 years continuously. In fact the original inhabitants of this Country were Tamils. The original Tamil inhabitants swelled up subsequently with the coming of the Pandyas, Pallavas, Cholas, Cheras and the Arya Chakrawarthy group, all leaving behind Tamil speaking people to add up to the numbers of the original Tamils who occupied the areas now identified as Northern, Eastern and parts of Western, North Central and North Western Provinces. If you look at the old title deeds of many a Sinhala family of those who lived along the coast from Colombo to Puttalam they would be found to be in the Tamil language. When I visited Munneswaram Temple during my childhood, the area was full of Hindu Tamils. Now hardly any noticeable Hindu Tamils live there.
Sri Lankan state-sponsored colonization schemes were the successive Sinhala majority governments’ program of settling mostly persons from the South in the North and the East and elsewhere. Within predominantly Tamil speaking areas, persons from outside the said Provinces were brought and settled. This is taking place since the 1950s. According to International Law principles people of the area of settlement should be given first preference. Not only that. They should reflect the racial demography of the area.
Since irrigation settlements occurred under direct state sponsorship, most of those who were settled in the North and East were ethnic Sinhalese . It was no doubt a deliberate attempt of the Sinhalese-dominated state to marginalize the Tamils further by decreasing their numbers in their own areas. This no doubt was one of the reasons if not perhaps the most immediate cause of inter-communal violence in the early days.
Shortly after independence, the government of Ceylon started a program to settle Sinhalese in the jungles of the Trincomalee District. The forests were cleared and water tanks restored. As a consequence of these schemes the Sinhalese population of the Trincomalee District which was quite low rose to 33% in 1981.In the 1980s the government extended the colonization schemes into the Dry Zone area of the Northern Province, drawing up plans to settle up to 30,000 Sinhalese in the area. Colonization schemes also took place in the areas of Ampara and Batticaloa districts. The Sinhalese population rose in the combined Batticaloa and Amparai Districts to numbers far in excess of the natural projected growth.
The notion of the “traditional Tamil homeland” became a potent component of popular Tamil political agitations while the Sinhalese nationalist groups viewed the resettlement schemes in these areas as “reclamation and recreation in the present of the glorious Sinhalese Buddhist past”. But the Sinhalese were wrongly advised by their Politicians and others about their past.
Tamils were the original inhabitants of this Island. When Buddhism was introduced there were no Sinhalese. It were the Tamils who were converted to Buddhism. All the Buddhist remains now found in the North and East going back to 2000 years are the remnants from the time of the Tamil Buddhists. (Demala Baudhayo as Professor Sunil Ariaratne refers to them). Sinhala language came into being in the 6th and 7th centuries AD. There were no Sinhala speaking people before that. Their first grammar book Sidath Sangaraya came out in the 13th century AD.
The Mahawansa was a fiction written in the Pali language. Atta Katha also was written in Pali though some Sinhalese try to make out that it was written in Sinhalese. In recent times there is an insidious habit among the Sinhalese to translate ancient Tamil names used in the areas in the North East, into Sinhalese and claim those translated names were the original Sinhala names used in Sinhala areas of yore which predated Tamils’ occupation!
Coming back to the Colonisation schemes of the successive Governments the first colonisation scheme was in the Gal Oya Valley in the Batticaloa District in 1952. Tens of thousands of Sinhalese peasants from the Kegalle and Kandy districts were given fertile land in the upstream end of Gal Oya. Gal Oya became later the site of the first major anti-Tamil riot in 1956.
The next colonisation scheme was around the Kanthalai tank where peasants from outside of the Trincomalee District were settled in the then Tamil dominant village of Kanthalai, 39 km south-west of the Trincomalee town. Almost all the settlers were Sinhalese. When I was a child Kantalai was a Tamil speaking area.
Another colonisation scheme was set up at the areas surrounding the Kantalai Tank, 25 km south of Trincomalee town. 65% of settlers were Sinhalese and the rest were Muslims.
A scheme was started at Pathavik Kulam 65 km North-East of Anuradhapura town. The scheme lay in Trincomalee District but was administered by the Sinhalese majority Anuradhapura District. Land Development Department employees from this scheme took part in the 1958 anti-Tamil riots.
In 1961 a colonisation scheme was started at Muthali Kulam, 24 km west of the Trincomalee town. There too Sinhalese were settled.
In the 1980s, funded by aid received from the European Community, a Sinhala colonisation scheme was started at Periya Vilankulam (Mahadiulwewa) tank, 30 km North-West of Trincomalee town.
This colonisation scheme was extended into the Northern Province with the introduction of the Manal Aru (Weli Oya) scheme, which covered the districts of Mullaitivu, Trincomalee, Vavuniya and Anuradhapura. Sinhalese were settled in lands that were formerly populated by ethnic Tamils, given land, money to build homes and security provided by the Special Task Force. Although the scheme covered four districts, administration was handled by the Anuradhapura district, which constituted a Sinhalese majority demography. The Weli Oya scheme aroused much anger amongst the Tamils. This anger boiled over into violence when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam attacked the Kent and Dollar Farm settlements at Weli Oya.
When the Indian Peace Keeping Forces were withdrawn in 1990, Tamil homes in the suburbs of Trincomalee were occupied by Sinhalese settlers. Tens of thousands of Sinhalese were reported to have been brought in by the advancing government forces and made to occupy local villages and lands, denying resettlement to its original inhabitants who had earlier fled to the jungles due to the murder of Tamil civilians at the hands of the Army.
After May 2009 several settlement programmes were initiated by the government that extended towards the Northern Province. In the Vavuniya district 3000 acres in Madukulam were cleared for a village, while work of a settlement is underway in Othiyamalai Kaadu. A settlement is being created in Rampaveddi bordering a minor tank area and new settlement of approximately 2500 ethnic Sinhala families (about 6000 people) from the South have been settled in the village of Kokkachaankulam and the Hindu temple in the village was demolished and replaced with a Buddhist Stupa. Tamils in Barathypuram in the Kilinochchi District were evicted and a Muslim settlement is being created in the area due to the large economic opportunities provided by an apparels’ factory built there.
Several new settlements are also being built in Mullaitivu District while the Manal Aru (Weli Oya) settlement is being expanded as well. Several fishing colonies are being built in the Mannar district and Muslim settlements have been built in lands previously owned by Tamils that fled to India during the war.
‘Navatkuli Housing Project’ is being built in Navatkuli, Jaffna District to house 135 Sinhalese families, including 54 families who had, in 2010, attempted to set up temporary residences at the Jaffna Railway Station with funding from Buddhist Organizations and Political parties.
Tamils are being ethnically cleansed in the Jaffna peninsula and Mullativu districts, and this was being supplemented with the construction of Buddhist stupas and Sinhalisation of names of streets and places. Over 400 Sinhala families were reported to have been settled in Nelukkulam in Mullativu district recently .The Tamil populace had been reduced to a fourth, based on Government figures. Tamil locals also complained of the State waging an accelerated campaign of Sinhala Buddhist colonisation by destroying historic Hindu shrines in the East.
Another incident of State colonization before the Final Eelam War was reported by Muslim residents of the Pulmoddai village in the Trincomalee District who claimed that several acres of their traditional land had been annexed by the Government for settlements from South on the pretext of industrial development.
The settlements are made easy to the Government due to the large presence of its Military who hold 65000 acres of State Land apart from the private lands held.
Now to answer your question. My age and background need not be barriers when the Traditional Homelands of the Tamils of this Country are being misappropriated under several guises through several Government Departments like the Mahaweli Authority, Forest Department, Wild Life Department and the Archaeology Department. The recent One Country One Law project seems to be a deliberate attempt to erase our identity and individuality. The chances are the Government is trying to bring in a new Constitution sans Federalism, sans Thirteenth amendment, sans Indian intervention through the Indo Sri Lankan Agreement and restrict unit of Local Authority to Districts instead of Provinces under a centralized Unitary constitution.
Why do you expect me to think of my background, age and the inconvenience of sitting on the roadside at the Galle Face, when the entire Sri Lankan Tamil population are facing slow extinction at the hands of the Sri Lankan Government?