18 June, 2021

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Why Devolution Of Power Should Be On A Linguistic Basis

By RMB Senanayake

RMB Senanayake

Sinhala nationalists who deny that the Tamils have any grievances are now campaigning for the abolition of the Provincial Councils under the 13th Amendment. But S.W.R.D., the Western educated liberal who introduced the Sinhala Only Law, realised that an injustice was done to the Tamil people for it was not only an instrument to discriminate against Tamils in State employment but also to force them to deal with the State and its agencies only in Sinhala, which the large majority of Tamil people did not know.

How could the Tamil people give voice to their problems to the powers that be unless they learn Sinhala, for, given Sinhala as the only medium of education, future political leaders would know only Sinhala?
Even then the Tamil people suspected rightly that the Sinhalese wanted to exercise power only for their benefit and since most Sinhala leaders believed in a zero sum game in the economic sphere, thought it was necessary to reduce the number of Tamils in State employment.

These extremists later realised that the Tamils were entering the high-paying professions like the medical and engineering and accounting professions in numbers disproportionate to their numbers in the population. So they introduced media-wise standardisation for entry to the universities.

This was the last straw as far as the Tamil youth were concerned and they took to arms to establish their own State where they could manage their resources to serve their objectives of higher education. Were the Tamil people left with any choice when the motive of discrimination was so patent? So education and higher education would have to be a devolved power.

The Tamil people have a human right to deal with the Police in their own language. But Sinhala was the official language, which means the language of record in all government offices of the central government.
It is not possible to have two official languages in every government office throughout the length and breadth of the country. Nor is it necessary or economically feasible for it would mean enormous extra cost.
The British colonial ruler had only English as the official language for their centralised administration through provincial chiefs drawn from the bureaucracy who were free to act with independence and according to bureaucratic values of good governance.

But in 1956 a new political and governance culture was introduced by the SLFP. The local MP wanted to exercise power in the Executive sphere instead of confining themselves to the legislative sphere to which they were elected. They wanted to exercise power in appointments, transfers and discipline in the public service which are maters of internal administration. They wanted to influence the Police in their functions.
The Tamil politicians were not in the ruling political party and could not exercise power in a similar manner. They were also better educated and understood that it was improper to engage in this new political culture. They probably knew that this new political culture would lead to the collapse of democratic public administration and would lead to a one party military state.

S.W.R.D., the liberal politician leader, sought to rectify the injustice to the Tamil people because of the Sinhala Only policy. He did the only practical thing, which was to suggest devolving power to the Tamils through a regional council for the north and east where Tamil would be the official language and where Tamil politicians could exercise power through such council.

The British had only English as the official language which meant that all records in government offices were kept in English only although locals could speak to government officials in the local languages and were interpreted for the benefit of English officials, although these officials were required to learn the local languages to converse with and understand locals. Court proceedings were recorded in English only.
S.W.R.D. probably realised that it was neither practical nor economically feasible to have two official languages in every government office throughout the length and breadth of the country. So he drew up the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact in 1958. But Sinhala extremists protested and he was forced to tear up the Pact. Another liberal leader among the Sinhalese – Dudley Senanayake – agreed to a similar proposal for devolution of power with Chelvanayagam, but extremists forced him too to abandon the pact.

All attempts to get the Sinhalese public servants to learn Tamil by providing incentives have failed. Nor is it necessary. Consider Switzerland where four languages are spoken – German, Italian, French, and Romansh. Three of them are of equal status in the Federal Government but in each Canton there is only one official language and it is the language of the majority. Canada has two official languages but they are not applicable throughout Canada. Here is what the Act of 1988 set in place: that English and French will have equal status of languages of work within the federal public service within geographically defined parts of the country that are designated bilingual (most notably in National Capital Region, Montreal and New Brunswick), as well as in certain overseas government offices and in parts of the country where there is sufficient demand for services in both official languages. In remaining geographical areas, the language of work for federal public servants is French (in Quebec) and English (elsewhere); These countries are federal and Switzerland is smaller than in Sri Lanka. The need to devolve is also necessary to reduce the cost and burden of having two official languages in the central government for day-to-day functions would be done in one language only – Sinhalese in the Sinhala majority areas and Tamil in the Tamil majority provinces. So it is necessary that there should be devolution of power on linguistic basis as India did and there have been no persistent secessionist movements in India and the movement in the South has died down.

Why? Because there are wider economic opportunities in a larger state than in a smaller state provide there is no discrimination against the minority in the larger state. The people also realise that economic development is not a zero sum unlike the Sinhalese, who probably because of the insular mentality of an island people cannot grasp this fact of economics. Now there is a clamour to abolish provincial councils. Some want to reduce the Tamil majority by combining the Sinhala majority and Tamil majority provinces. Others who rather naïve about local government want to establish a grama rajya or district councils to which power should be devolved. But this requires another article.

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    Devolution or no devolution communication should be in all three languages. Sinhala and Tamil with English as the global link language Devolution is completely a different topic and language policy should be uniform throughout the entire country to uphold the rights of people of all ethnicities to reside whereever they wish.

    Unit of devolution should be adequately large to ensure revenue and feasibility. Having small pockets like gramya raja defeats the very purpose as they will have to depend on the central govt for everything.

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    It is rarely you find a Lankan from the higher tiers of the former
    brilliant CCS, the top of the private sector and the banking sector.
    In addition to all three, RMB is also passionately reformist-oriented.
    He loves his country and all its people. He wishes to see them live in peace and unity. An equally devoted Catholic, he has fought many a battle against corruption by the high and mighty. His battle against the anti-Conversion Bill will not be forgotten by many.

    Here he speaks fearlessly against the many injustices done to Tamils
    while in no way being a lesser Sinhalese. How fortunate will we all be if we had a few more like this fine Sri Lankan Gentleman-Patriot.

    Senguttuvan

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    Sena

    You missed the point, Banda put Sinhalese as a major due to the fact English have taken the majority’s language right.. Doing so he may have inadvertently upset tamil people.. But language issue is easy to fix but it take time since where do you find so many teachers that speak both?
    You cannot bring in Swiss model here since they have resources and we do not.. so Pls. use common sense rather than preach non sense that is difficult to execute.

    Minority in any country have to live with the majority and if minority is asking total cake then conflict arises.

  • 0
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    Kudos to you sir. May your ilk prosper and spread this message of reason like a beacon in this dark hour

  • 0
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    A good article but it only focuses on the language aspect of devolution. There are however other aspects to the desire for self determination which need to be considered. That is Nationalist sentiment in all 3 communities and the lack of trust in the other. This has made it necessary that devolution happens on a more democratic and voluntary basis where people get to decide if and how they want their devolution. I am talking here about Eastern Tamils and Eastern Moslems who might want their own unit. Its best to give them the option and then allow them to ally with the North and each other on their own terms afterwards. As I have said before, provincial borders will have to be redrawn so ensure land is distributed equally and fairly.

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    Watcher – Methinks Sinhala and Buddhism could have been given their due places in that highly charged 1956 period without dismantling
    English, in which we established ourselves as a leading nation in
    Asia. What we see is the breakdown of our Courts system, where even CJs are involved in rackets, is a direct result of some features of the Language of the Courts legislation of that time.

    Look at the tragedy now. Even the highest judicial officials in the land plus the BASL are unable to speak two lines of English without
    fumbling. As to the PCs, who may soon outnumber ordinary Proctors,
    the least said the better. Someone commented recently all you need to become a PC is not to know the law well or have a lucrative practise but know someone “in the family” I fear the day this voguish virus enters the medical and engineering fields.

    Senguttuvan

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    Devolution of Power on a Linguistic Basis may not work out for us, especially in the current political scenario.
    Our literacy rate varies in each province, resulting in the limitation of the needed human resources.
    It is a known fact that due to language barriers most people tend to remain in their localities. Majority of Eastern and Northen Province citizens speak only Tamil. All other provinces it is Sinhala, Sinhala/English and Tamil/Sinhala ( First mentioned being the mother tongue).
    And with the ‘Majority’ attitude being openly/silently advocated by ‘vested interests’, it will need many such RMBS personalities and another era, to adopt RMBS’s suggestion.

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    The Tamil people of Jaffna – known to be law-abiding and conservative – were driven to support a war for two reasons as Mr Senanayaka has clearly explained; these were the restriction of entry into the public service and the Universities, both of which led to a loss of livelihood. Even after 30 years of war, we sinhalese, have not understood this and both these conditions remain.

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    I agree that removing English from schools and forcing Sinhala only schools did lots of damage to the country.

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    The author is clearly giving examples to point-out how the western countries are running, but the Sri Lankans leaders’ mindset and ideology are centuries behind the west. When I hear Wimal’s speech I shake my head and tell myself these idiots will not even think or act like the west in 1000 years. The current SLFP leaders do not think or act differently than those SLFP leaders who were ruling in 1956. Sri Lankan politicians enjoy passing their stupidity to their future generations, that is why they are still fighting since 1948. You are disgraceful and shame for humanity. I have red more than 300 history and political books, let me tell you one important thing. There is no comparison between the west and the Indian subcontinent, stop fooling yourselves. The Chinese may compare their country with west in 50-100 years, but not Sri Lanka or any other country from the Indian subcontinent.

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    Language usage & devolution are two separate issues. Right of citizens to transact official business in their main language has been recognised with or without devolution. There is adequate legal provisions established in Sri Lanka for that purpose. It’s a matter of genuine implementation of such provisions that require focus.

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    “Right of citizens to transact official business in their main language has been recognised with or without devolution.”

    You never told me that Veddah language is also a recognised official language. When did it happen?

    “There is adequate legal provisions established in Sri Lanka for that purpose.It’s a matter of genuine implementation of such provisions that require focus”

    So the stupid Sinhala/Buddhist state has discovered wheel and fire after burning their fingers (bums too) and run over by wheels.

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    Hela – The need for devolution became necessary because implementation of the Language Policy e.g. Tamil citizens transactions with the State – was sabotaged by conspiratorial interests within the majority.
    In the beginning it was not difficult to have provided translators in each Dept. It was deliberately not done in those racially-charged years. We sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind.

    We have to look at other forms of cooperation if peaceful co-existence is in the Agenda. Many Tamils within feel they have had enough. The TGTE being ecognised in the very precincts of the British Parliament currently is clear indicatiion matters are getting out of hand. But is the power-drunk regime aware of this to engage the oncoming Tsunami
    objectively and adequately.

    Senguttuvan

  • 0
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    The writer has not explained why devolution of power cannot be given to regions on a non linguistic basis.For example the country can be equally divided into north,south,east,west and central provinces and power can be devolved for the people in those provinces to administer their own affairs without having to rely on some bureaucrat sleeping in Colombo.After this is done the 16th amendment to the constitution making Sinhala and Tamil languages of administration,legislation and courts should be implemented fully which will take care of the language problems.The devolution of powers and the language problem are two very different issues really and can be solved by concurrently implementing the 13th amendment and the 16th amendment in full and then later on when all this mistrust between the two communities is sorted out the 13th amendment should be enhanced further after seeing the operational problems and weaknesses in it.

    The 16th amendment came into effect on December 1988.24 years alter it has still not been fully implemented. It should not be confused with the 13th amendment which is to solve the devolution problems as MR.RMB Senenayaka is doing here.

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