50th Year of Serfdom

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: TamilCanadain
| Date: 19980204

By: V.Thangavelu

February 4, 1948 will go down in the history of the Thamil People of Thamil Eelam as a BLACK DAY. On this fateful day, the 3 million Thamils of Ceylon exchanged their white masters (British) for the brown sahibs the Sinhalese.

Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, would not have gained independence from Britain without the support and consent of the Thamil people. In fact it was the Thamil leaders like Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan (1851-1930) and Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam (1853-1924) who fearlessly spearheaded the struggle for constitutional reforms that led to independence from colonial yoke. However, the Ponnambalam brothers in their evening of life realised that the Sinhalese politicians have made use of them and taken them for a ride to advance the interests of the majority community at the expense of the Thamil people. Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan foresaw that the democratic principle of one person one vote in a heterogeneous society would ultimately lead to tyranny by the majority.

In a speech to the Legislative Council during the debate on the Donoughmore Reforms, Mr. Ramanathan appears the precursor of the Thamils demand for a sovereign state of Thamil Eelam.

Why did the (Donoughmore) Commissioners not study Ireland which is nest door to them? They (Irish) said that we are one lot and you are another. We cannot work together. We must have separate governments. Then I ask what happened in the Dominion of Canada?... The officials concerned said, it is an impossible situation.... Let us give these French descendants one form of government and let us give the other people another form of government- forms of government suitable to the interests of each of these great big communities. Why did the Commissioners think of that?"

It was Sir Arunachalam Ponnambalam who first (1923) exhorted the Thamils that they should work towards promoting the union and solidarity of what we have been proud to call THAMIL EELAM. We desire to preserve our individuality as a people, to make ourselves worthy of inheritance. We are not enamoured about the cosmopolitanism which would make us `neither fish, fowl nor red-herring."

D.S.Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon, gave the following solemn promise to the Thamil and other minority communities that no harm need you (non-Sinhalese) at our hands (Sinhalese) in a free Lanka. He was speaking in the in the State Council in October, 1945 when all the Thamil members had unanimously voted for the acceptance of the Soulbury constitution in a White Paper.

"Do you want to be governed from London or do you want, as Ceylon, to help govern Ceylon? ...... On behalf of the (Ceylon National) Congress (founded by Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam in 1919) and on my behalf, I give the minority communities the sincere assurance that no harm need you fear at our hands in a free Lanka."

But in 1948, the very year of Independence, D.S.Senanayake blatantly went back on the promise and bared his true colours as a champion of Sinhala chauvinism by depriving one million Thamils of their citizenship. The Citizenship Act No.18 was unique in that it denied citizenship to a person born in the country before or after 1948 unless , at least, his father was born in or was a citizen of Sri Lanka. The following year, the same Thamils were deprived of their franchise rights which induced the Thamils representation in Parliament to fall from 33% in 1948 to a mere 20% in 1952.

The Citizenship Act #18 of 1948 opened the floodgates to further legislative and administrative acts which robbed Thamils of their language, educational, and employment rights.

It might be informative at this stage to recapitulate the history of the National conflict between the Thamils and the Sinhalese.

THE HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL CONFLICT BETWEEN THE THAMILS AND THE SINHALESE

The Thamils and the Sinhalese are divided on the basis of territory, language, religion, and culture. The enmity between the Thamils and the Sinhalese go back to atleast two centuries before Christ.

The Mahavamsa, a Buddhist chronicle written in the 6th century AD by a Buddhist monk portrays the Sinhalese King Dutugemunu as the National Hero who defeated the Thamil King Ellalan and unified the whole of Ceylon. Though Buddhism infinitely values human life as being the one and only condition from which nibbana (salvation) could be attained, Mahavamsa made a virtue of killing in defence of Buddhism. This 2nd century B.C war has been used to raise the cry of Race, Land and Faith by the Sinhalese-Buddhist chauvinistic forces during the last hundred years or more.

The Mahavamsa has perpetrated the myth that Sinhalese-Buddhists are a chosen people with the special mission of preserving the Buddhist religion in Sri Lanka. Dr.Walpola Rahula, a scholar monk, wrote that " for more than two millennia the Sinhalese have been inspired that they were a nation brought into being for the definite purpose of carrying the torch lit by Buddha." In Mahavamsa tradition the Thamils are considered villains and invaders. It is the Mahavamsa theory that the Island as a whole belongs to the Sinhalese Buddhists only, and that there is no place or only second class status for Thamils. This Mahavamsa tradition is the root cause of the present conflict between the Thamil Nation and the Sinhalese Nation.

Those who wish to see an end to the national conflict would have to take into consideration the Mahavamsa mind-set. For it is the Mahavamsa mode of thinking which has influenced all the rulers, especially the governments of post independence Ceylon.

The planned state-aided colonization of Thamil traditional Homelands, the Sinhala Only Act, the recognition of Buddhism as the state religion, the lion flag as the national flag, the national anthem and the stubborn insistence on a unitary constitution are manifestations of the Mahavamsa mind-set deeply embedded in the Sinhalese psyche.

Initiatives in the past to settle the national conflict by the signing of the Bandaranayake-Chelvanayagam pact (1957), Dudley Senanayake- Chelvanayagam pact (1965), and the Indo-Ceylon Accord (1987) failed because of this single factor.

BROKEN PROMISES AND PACTS

The Thamils have experienced numerous betrayals by successive Sri Lankan governments since independence. They include the following signed pacts between the leaders of the Sinhalese and the Thamils which were torn-up under pressure from Sinhalese-Buddhist extremists:

1. Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact ( 26 July, 1957)

2. Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact ( 24 March,1965)

Under both these pacts, a certain degree of autonomy was to be vested in the administration of Thamils traditional homeland ( Northern and Eastern Provinces.)

COLONISATION

Through a systematic state-aided Sinhalese colonisation of the traditional homelands of the Thamils, the demographic profile of the Thamils has been drastically altered. In the Eastern Province, the once majority Thamil community ( 52.3 % in 1946; 41.9 in 1981) has been reduced to a minority whereas the percentage of Sinhalese rose from 8.4. % in 1946 to a staggering 32.2% in 1981.

REJECTION OF CONSTITUTIONS

The Thamil people and their leaders rejected both the Sri Lankan Republican constitutions of 1972 and 1978. With Sri Lanka becoming a Republic, sovereignty reverted to both the Sinhalese and the Thamils. The Sinhalese are able to exercise their sovereignty through the state of Sri Lanka but they deny Thamils their right to exercise their sovereignty through a de jure state of Thamil Eelam.

MANDATE FOR THAMIL EELAM

The Thamil people in all the parliamentary elections held since 1956 has consistently voted for the Federal Party which stood for a Thamil State within a federal structure. In 1977, the Thamil United Liberation Front sought and obtained an overwhelming mandate for the restoration of the State of Thamil Eelam-status quo ante. The LTTE through a revolutionary armed struggle is implementing the mandate given by the Thamil people. For well over a quarter of a century, the Thamils pleaded for autonomy for a Thamil Homeland within a united Sri Lanka, but such non-violent struggles were crushed through the use of brute military force. When all peaceful means failed the Thamils seeing no other options were forced to take up arms in defence of their rights.

SINHALA ARMY CAMPS IN THAMIL HOMELAND

There are more than 265 Sri Lankan army, naval and air force camps (about 90% of total camps in Sri Lanka) scattered throughout the North and East. Out of this, half the number is meant to give protection to the Sinhalese settlements. These Sinhalese settlers are mostly ex-convicts or prisoners who are given military training, arms and ammunitions. In addition, a paramilitary outfit styled "Home Guards" operate in these settlements.

The army and navy fire artillery shells indiscriminately towards heavily populated residential areas causing civilian casualties and destruction of property. The air force not to be left out undertakes aerial bombardment of towns and villages.

SRI LANKA'S MILITARY BUDGET

The estimates of revenue and expenditure for 1998 are Rs.306.7 billion and 208.1 billion respectively leaving a current deficit of Rs.98.6 billion.

Recently, the government increased the defence levy from 3.5 to 4.5 per cent generating an additional revenue of Cdn.$ 274 million. It has also increased duty on imports to 20 per cent.

The current budget allocation for defence totals Rs.4490 billion. This is 23 percent of the country's total revenue or 13.5 percent of the total expenditure for 1998. This expenditure is equivalent to the total defence expenditure for the first seven years of the war since 1983.

"Sri Lanka is maintaining the largest army in the world on a per capita basis. Sri Lanka's population of 18 million has a standing army of 110,000. Ninety-five percent of the army consists of the majority community. This means that there is a soldier in the army for every 124 persons in the population. India has an army of 1.1 million and a population of 836 million which means a ration of one soldier to 836 people. On the Sri Lankan ratio India has to have a standing army of 5.5 million......"

In April 1997, the Paris Aid Consortium countries, including Canada, gave Sri Lanka US $ 850 million in the form of loans and outright grants. Such massive foreign aid by western countries is helping the Sri Lankan government to wage the military war against the Thamils.

HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

There have been widespread human rights violations by the Sri Lankan security forces, especially in the Eastern Province. There are numerous incidents of arbitrary arrests, detentions and extra-judicial killings. Thamil people are used as human shields to detect land mines. In the capital Colombo, the round up, torture, and murder of Thamils, merely because of their ethnicity, take place daily.

Operation "Riviresa" launched by the Sri Lankan armed forces on October 17, 1995 has caused an exodus of 500, 000 people from their homes in Jaffna. To this another 150,000 was added when the Sri Lankan army launched "Jeyasikuru" operation on May 13, 1998 to open up the high way between Vavuniya and Kilinochchi. All these refugees/displaced persons are now housed in refugee camps/make-shift huts in the Vanni jungles without adequate food, fuel, and medical supplies. Due to poor sanitary conditions the people are suffering from dysentery, diarrhoea, and typhoid. The government has also deliberately curtailed the supply of cash causing additional hardship to the people. The Sri Lankan government has spurned international humanitarian assistance and restricted severely operations by foreign Non-Governmental Organizations. The government has imposed restrictions on such Relief agencies as the ICRC and UNHCR.

BAN ON DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN MEDIA

The Sri Lankan government has banned both the domestic and foreign news media from visiting the war-zone. Army organized conducted tours are occasionally arranged to see only what the army wants and write only what the army wish. The world at large is kept in the dark about conditions in the North, especially in the war-zones in regard to the human suffering due to lack of food and medicine.

PRESIDENT CHANDRIKA KUMARATUNGA'S PEACE PROPOSALS

These "peace proposals" will not change the status-quo of the Sinhalese language, Buddhist religion, the national flag and the national anthem. The government has not specified the unit of devolution. President Chandrika has further threatened to excise Sinhala majority areas and attach them to adjoining Sinhala majority provinces. A sure recipe for further conflict and turmoil between the Thamil nation and the Sinhala Nation. The main opposition party the UNP has rejected the draft constitution tabled in the Parliament by the PA government.

INTERNATIONAL MEDIATION

The LTTE has expressed its willingness to accept international mediation to resolve the national conflict. In his Heroes Day message LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran categorically stated that any resolution of the national conflict should be based on the basic principles outlined at Thimpu in 1985. But the Sri Lankan government has ruled out any third party mediation and has rejected Thimpu principles as the basis for resolving the national conflict. It continues its arms build-up to defeat the LTTE militarily unmindful of the costs in terms of monetary as well as manpower.

The western countries, including Canada, only pay lip service to peace. These countries which hold virtual monopoly in the manufacture and sale of arms to the Third world, want peace per se. They completely ignore the fact that it was during peacetime that the Thamils were robbed of their fundamental rights. It was between the years 1948 and 1983 that the Thamils lost their citizenship, franchise, language, education, and employment rights. It was during peace time the state-aided Sinhalese colonization of the North and East reduced the Thamils in the eastern province to a minority. The Thamil people are not opposed to peace, but they want just peace. In fact, the Thamils have a greater stake in peace than the Sinhalese because the former are the victims of war. It is the North and the East which have been turned into killing fields by the Sinhalese occupation army. Since 1983 more than 70,000 Thamils have died and more than 10,000 have simply "disappeared." According to Amnesty International six hundred out of more than 750 persons missing in the Jaffna peninsula during the last 18 months have been confirmed dead. Rape and murder of Thamil women go unabated by the Sinhala army. Billions worth of Thamil property have been destroyed.

RECOGNITION OF THAMIL EELAM

The recognition of the de facto state of Thamil Eelam is a prerequisite for a durable peace between Thamil Eelam and Sinhala Sri Lanka.

The nascent state of Thamil Eelam has all the basic requisites which make up a state. What is more Thamil Eelam has a regular Army and a Navy. President Chandrika herself has admitted that the LTTE controls 1/3 of the land and 2/3rd of the coastline.

Genuine negotiations between two warring parties are not possible unless they are equal in status. The recognition of the de facto state of Thamil Eelam will place the Thamil Nation and Sinhalese Nation on an equal footing. Once qualitative equality is achieved then the two countries, and the two Nation States can negotiate for peace and sign an agreement not to interfere in each other's internal affairs. It is the absence of qualitative equality, that makes the majority Sinhalese think they are the rulers and the Thamils their subjects.

On this day of February 4, the Thamil people rededicate their "resolve to win back their lost freedom and live as equals to the Sinhalese people in their own state of Thamil Eelam." The international community should lend its support to the Thamil peoples quest for statehood and the right to live as free people.

"All people have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."

(Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.)