By C.V. Wigneswaran –
Someone asked me: What was the reason that prompted the Government to appoint a Presidential Task Force to protect archaeological sites in the Eastern Province? Who are its members? Will it affect the future of the Tamils?
My response was: The purposes as per Gazette Extraordinary dated 02.06.2020 are:
1. To Identify sites of archaeological importance in the Eastern Province,
2. To Identify and implement an appropriate program for the management of archaeological heritage by conserving and restoring such identified sites and antiquities,
3. To Identify the extent of land that should be allocated for such archaeological sites and take necessary measures to allocate them properly and legally, and
4. To Preserve the cultural value of sites of archaeological importance and promote the uniqueness of Sri Lanka, both locally and internationally, and make recommendations for the promotion of such heritages.
The Task Force is authorized to investigate and issue directions as may be necessary in connection with the functions entrusted to it and submit reports from time to time.
Further, the Presidential Task Force on Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province may issue instructions or request that all Government Officers and other persons requesting assistance in the provision of services, comply with such instructions.(sic.)
The President instructed all Government Officers and others to provide all possible assistance and provide all information that may be provided and directed the Task Force to report to him, all cases of delay or default on the part of any Public Officer or Officer of any Ministry, Government Department, State Corporation or other similar institution in the discharge of duties and responsibilities assigned to such public officer or such institution.
Eleven members of the Task Force on Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province include:
1. Archaeological Chakravarthi Ven. Ellawala Medhananda Thero
2. The Chief Prelate for the Northern and Eastern two Provinces, Chief Sanganayake of Thamankaduwa Division and Chief Incumbent of Arisimalai Aranya, Ven. Panamure Thilakawansha Thero
3. Major General (Retired) Kamal Gunaratne, Secretary to the Ministry of Defense
4. Dr. Senarath Bandara Dissanayake, Director-General of Archaeology
5. Ms. Chandra Herath, Land Commissioner General
6. Ms. A.L.S.C. Perera, Surveyor General
7. Prof. Raj Kumar Somadeva, Senior Lecturer, University of Kelaniya
8. Prof. Kapila Gunawardena, Medical Faculty, University of Peradeniya
9. Deshabandu Thennakoon, Senior DIG, Western Province
10. H.E.M.W.G. Dissanayake, Provincial Land Commissioner, Eastern Province
11. Dilith Jayaweera, Chairman of Derana Media Network
Responding to your question, the purpose appears to be to write a distorted history in favor of the Sinhala Buddhists, to expropriate areas in predominantly traditional Tamil areas under the pretext of preservation of archeological sites, erase traces of Tamilian and Saivite history, culture & heritage and make out that the Eastern Province was always Sinhala Buddhist and the Tamil and Muslim immigrants had expropriated Sinhala Buddhist lands and they must be returned to the State.
Wrong history has been doled out by the Sinhalese Historians hitherto which have conditioned the Sinhala Buddhists to believe this country was earlier Sinhala Buddhist and the later Tamil and Muslim immigrants are asking too many rights. But the fact is that this country was originally Saivite Tamil. After Buddhism was introduced many Tamils became followers of the Buddhist teachings (Demala Baudhayos). Centuries later the Tamil Buddhists preferred to return back to Saivism particularly after the Bakthi Movement was initiated by the Nayanmars in South India. The original inhabitants of this Island were the Tamil speaking people. They were Saivites and the ancient Lingams viz. Naguleswaram, Thiruketheeswaram, Muneswaram, Thirukoneswaram and Thondeeswaram (Dondra) still with us are proof of pre Buddhistic Saivism. But history has been distorted.
Professor Sudharshan Seneviratne has already warned us about the dangers facing historical and archeological research here. This statement by him appeared in the Island Paper of 4th August 2001. It is as follows: “The future of both historical and archaeological studies in Sri Lanka is at cross roads facing a dilemma of priorities, choices, resource persons, attitudes and above all quality of research. It is indeed reasonable to question the extent to which a new breed of charlatans and political animals in these disciplines are responsible for the emergence of (an) ahistorical attitude and an anti-historical bias in schools, at seats of higher education and the country in general. “Anti –Orwellian “ historians in this country who have slithered their way through “corridors of power “ have not only compromised the very fundamentals of intellectual decency but are now in the process of subverting the study of history for personal ends and political expediency.”
Professor Leslie Gunawardana too has said as follows: “A trend which appears to be gathering strength is represented by some researchers in the field of archaeology and history who see in their work the fulfillment of a duty to highlight the splendour of the Sinhala or the Tamil group as the case may be, and to bolster the claims of one’s own group to disputed territory. While it has led to a growth of interest in research related to ethnic studies, this development has brought in its wake a noteworthy relaxation of intellectual rigour in research.” (Gunawardana 1994 ; 213 )
Many so called Archaeologists and Historians today appear to fall into the category of the new breed mentioned by Professor Sudharshan Seneviratne. Such Archaeologists and Historians finding place per chance in the above said Task Force would ensure that the Task Force in their work would see the fulfillment of a duty to highlight the splendour of the Sinhala Buddhists and bolster the claims of the Sinhala Buddhists to disputed territory.
Certain questions arise when one peruses the purposes set out in the Gazette Extraordinary.
Firstly what steps have been taken to identify Hindu, Christian and Muslim sites of archaeological importance? Has the President included Historians and Archaeologists from these three categories? Do the present Members of the Commission understand ancient Tamil language leave alone modern Tamil? Tamil was the lingua franca of the entire Island long before the introduction of Buddhism. It were the Tamils who received Buddhism into the Country. A thorough knowledge of ancient Tamil is absolutely necessary to conduct archaeological investigations into the pre Buddhistic times. Without Tamil speaking Historians in equal numbers finding place in the Task Force how is archaeological investigation going to be done properly? Or has the President made up his mind that there cannot be any archaeological remains except Sinhala Buddhist in the Eastern Province? He appears to believe that there could be no remains of the period of the Demala Baudhayos. A proper investigation should no doubt confirm the antiquity of the Tamil speaking people in the North and East. But is the President giving a chance for a proper investigation? His purpose seems to be indirectly delineated by the type of Members included in the Commission.
Secondly have the consent and concurrence of the Tamil speaking people of the North and East been obtained before appointing such a Commission? Such consent should come from the Eastern Provincial Council. Is it to avoid having to ask for their consent that this is being done at a time when the EPC has gone into hibernation? One may ask why their consent? The post Buddha Hindus jettisoned Buddhism and went back to Hinduism. They are no more interested in Buddhistic revival in Hindu areas. So are the Christians and the Muslims not interested in Buddhist revival in traditional Tamil speaking areas. The Tamil speaking form the majority in the Eastern Province. Therefore in a democratic country such consultation is necessary. May be forcible conversion to Buddhism seems to be in the agenda of the powers that be.
Thirdly is it not a fact that the President through this Commission is trying to hurriedly expropriate traditional Tamil lands and hand them over to Sinhala Buddhist organizations with an ulterior motive of changing the demography of the Eastern Province? We brought this fact out in our recent Land Grabbing International Zoom Conference which Hon’ Madame Navaneetham Pillai too participated.
Fourthly such open land grabbing and forcible eviction of the Tamil speaking people from their traditional habitats coupled with the forcible construction of Buddhist places of worship in non Buddhistic areas would amount to genocide.
Article 11 of the Genocide Convention states as follows:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The International Community will no doubt take cognizance of such high handed acts of the Government and there is every possibility that such activities could be fore runners to the Balkanisation of the Country.
By the appointment of the Pan Sinhala Presidential Task Force definitely the future of the Tamil speaking people of the North and East is in jeopardy.
*Justice C.V. Wigneswaran, M.P. Jaffna District.